A Beautiful Mind
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“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Academy Award-winning motion picture “A Beautiful Mind” is loosely based upon the life of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. A brilliant but somewhat antisocial man, Nash preferred to spend his time with his thoughts, which were primarily of seeing mathematical formulae in everyday occurrences rather than interacting with other people. Two people with whom he did make a connection were Charles, his roommate at Princeton, and Alicia, one of his students when he was teaching at M.I.T. in the early 1950’s, whom he eventually marries.
As time goes on, Nash lives more and more a double life, which causes major problems for him professionally and personally. Alicia stands by her husband as he faces the enemy within. And through a great struggle, Nash comes to realize that although he really misses Charles’ company, spending time with Charles is not in his or anyone else’s best interest. After all Charles is only a product of Nash’s “beautiful mind,” a mind filled with the imagination of a mathematical genius, but also caught in the delusions of paranoid schizophrenia.
I mention “A Beautiful Mind” for two reasons. First, in our text St. Paul encourages the Philippians (and us, by extension) to have the same mind or attitude as Christ, imitating His humility. Christ’s mind, His spirit of humility, is certainly beautiful. In His readiness to carry out the saving will of God, the eternal Word willingly “put His crown on the shelf” to live among us as one as of us.
The second reason I bring up “A Beautiful Mind” is the seemingly schizophrenic nature of this day. We begin with Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and end with His passion and death on Good Friday. The people shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Then five days later: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
On this day, we have Christ in both His states of humiliation and exaltation. The soldiers twist together a crown of thorns, kneel before Him and salute Him as King of the Jews. As He hangs on the cross, naked and bloody, the chief priests mock Him, saying: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” On the Last Day, Christ will come down—He will descend from heaven and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord of lords and King of kings. But on that Good Friday He stays—so that He might save us from our sin!
This day in which we observe both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion certainly seems schizophrenic and contradictory, but it’s not, for the eager reception of Jesus as the promised King triggers His arrest, trials, and crucifixion. The King who rides humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey bringing peace is glorified when His subjects rebel and hang Him on a cursed cross. The cross and the glory, humility and exaltation are never far apart, though often hidden among one another so as to be difficult to distinguish.
This is all brought together for us in our text. St. Paul begins, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So, how are you doing? How is your mind? Do you have the beautiful mind of Jesus Christ? Are you humble? Are you obedient? Are you servant-minded? Are you really? All the time?
A little while ago I was talking with someone who needed to have an EEG. He joked about the doctors being able to read his mind. I responded that I certainly wouldn’t want them to be able to do that to me. The idea that my selfishness, lovelessness, disobedience, and depravity would be on display for anyone else to see in all of its stark ugliness is a mortifying thought. It should be enough to scare the hell out of me…literally… but it doesn’t because my sinful old Adam is rather fond of his hellish ways.
Still there is one who knows my every thought and yours as well. He knows my mind better than I know myself. He, of all people, should stay away from you and me, for what has light to do with darkness? What has holiness to do with sin? And yet, He does come near. He comes so near that He becomes one of us. One who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. One who is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Though He is God from eternity, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. He humbles Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus willingly gives His perfect, obedient life as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of the world. Christ’s righteousness is credited to you and me by God’s grace through faith in the Gospel, and we have forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name and through His Word.
That Word and name given to us in our Baptism, means that we do have the mind of Christ. While we still carry along with us the corrupt and evil nature that we inherit because of Adam’s fall into sin, a new spiritual life and nature has been created in us by the washing of rebirth. The fact that within us dwells both sinner and saint makes it imperative that we continually reorient our mind to match our Savior’s through daily repentance. “By Baptism we have been made to share in Christ’s death and resurrection. As He has buried our sin, so we too can and must daily overcome and bury it. And as He is risen from the dead and lives, we too can and must daily live a new life in Him” (Small Catechism).
Christ Jesus is both the perfect example and the ultimate source of strength for living lives of Christian humility and love. The more thoroughly we come to know Christ, the more completely Christ and His love will fill our hearts. The more we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the more we will have the mind of Christ.
As St. Paul encourages us to adopt our Savior’s mind, he offers a magnificent description of the mind of Christ. By summarizing the humiliation and exaltation of our Savior, the apostle takes us by the hand and leads us to see the divine mysteries of the person of Christ and His work for our salvation.
From all eternity Jesus has been one with the Father. Being “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” Jesus’ divine nature is not capable of experiencing humiliation. Nevertheless, Jesus, while fully retaining His divine nature, takes on a true human nature. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, He who is true God from all eternity becomes a true man and dwells among men. In Jesus’ incarnation, His human nature shares in all the attributes of His divine nature. The two natures are now perfectly united. Christ is the God-man. He possesses all of the fullness of the divinity; yet, because He is truly man as well as truly God, He could and did humble Himself for us.
As little as we would be able to understand one of John Nash’s complex mathematical equations in advanced game theory, much less can we understand this. Our human understanding of divine things is limited by sin, but God clearly reveals these truths to us in His Word. We humbly accept them in grateful faith.
Jesus is indeed true God, possessing all the characteristics of God, as He clearly demonstrates during His earthly ministry. Here is a man who can read the hearts of men, feed multitudes, control the weather, cast out demons, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. Those who observe Him closest have to declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Nevertheless, the apostle tells us, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Jesus was well aware of the fact that He is God, that He possessed all the majesty of God from all eternity. But Jesus did not consider this something to be displayed, or used for His own glory. The mission He received from the Father simply could not be combined with an open display of divine majesty. So Jesus humbled Himself. He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The expression “made Himself nothing” literally means “emptied Himself.” Jesus, of course, did not empty Himself of His divine nature. He was and always remained true God. But during His earthly life and ministry, Jesus laid aside the unlimited exercise of His divine power. It was as if Christ covered the glory of His divinity with the tattered rags of a beggar. He became like every other human being—lowlier, in fact, than most. Although He is the Lord of the universe, He was born in a stable, with a manger for His bed. He lived without earthly property or wealth. He was despised by many of His contemporaries. He placed Himself under the demands of God’s Law.
This was a necessary part of His office as our Redeemer. If He had lived on earth only as the disciples saw Him at His Transfiguration, His obedience to the Law as our substitute, as well as His rejection, suffering, and death would never have taken place, and our salvation never would have been won.
What a remarkable difference to earthly rulers. Earthly rulers seek victories through strength. They are forever building up weaponry, armies, and alliances to guarantee power for themselves. Jesus wins His victory for us in the very opposite way. He deprives Himself of the full use of His power and becomes altogether lowly in order to carry out the Father’s plan to save mankind.
With particular reverence, St. Paul describes for us the lowest depths to which the humiliation of the God-man sunk. Not only did Jesus humble Himself to become a man among sinful men, to take the lowly form of a slave, for man’s sake He became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Death on a cross was the most shameful death a man could experience, reserved for only the vilest criminals and slaves. Even more significantly, it was a kind of death cursed by God. In Old Testament Israel, after a wrongdoer had been put to death, the civil laws prescribed that His dead body be nailed to a tree. This was to impress upon the people that this individual, by His transgression, had suffered the ultimate curse of being cut off from God and His believing people. If, in the sight of God, the hanging of a dead body signified His curse, how much more then the hanging of a living person would be considered a curse, especially when that person was experiencing anguish beyond description.
The shame and degradation of this slave’s death made many, even St. Paul before his conversion, absolutely sure that Jesus could not be the Messiah. The lowliness simply did not conform to what they expected the Messiah to be. So the cross of Jesus becomes a stumbling block to many, even yet today.
But Holy Scripture’s clear answer to all human protests is that Jesus’ humiliation is not a contradiction, but a fulfillment of the Scriptures. It is a voluntary act by which Jesus bore our sins, took our curse, and experienced God’s wrath to carry out the Father’s plan for our salvation. The depth of Jesus’ humiliation is at the same time the height of His self-sacrificing love. The Blessed One, He in whom the Godhead dwelt bodily, hangs on a tree as one accursed. He is charged by God with the collective sin of the world and is forsaken by God into the torments of hell. This is the noblest act of love the world has ever seen, the mystery of the Gospel that even the angels desire to look into.
And it is all done for you and me. Because Jesus takes our sins, God declares us sinless in His sight. In God’s great exchange, our sins are charged to Christ and His righteousness is credited to us. By His humiliation Jesus reconciles us to the God from whom we have been separated by our sins. Now, we, as Jesus’ followers, are to have this same mind among ourselves, to imitate His humility.
But the basis on which Paul’s admonition rests includes not only Christ’s humiliation; it also includes His exaltation. Christ willingly humbles Himself for us and for our salvation, but this was only for a definite, limited time, and it was undertaken only to accomplish a specific purpose. When man’s salvation is fully accomplished, Jesus’ humiliation ceases forever. Having completed His mission, “God has highly exalted Him.” God the Father declares the work that Jesus has done as perfect and complete. The beggar’s cloak, the slave’s form, has been dropped, and Jesus no longer treats with restraint the fact that He is God. Now He fully exercises His majesty to rule over everything in heaven and on earth.
The Apostles’ Creed lists the various events of Jesus’ exaltation: “He descended into hell. The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
What a glorious victory these words describe. Jesus, our Savior, having won our redemption, openly triumphs over the forces of death and hell. Death has to relinquish its hold on Him. Earth can no longer contain Him. Heaven opens its doors to receive Him. Jesus, our victorious Savior, now rules all things in heaven and on earth in the interest of His believers, and He will come again to judge the world, and take His believers to be with Him and to share His glory in eternal life.
In His humiliation, Jesus is rejected by sinful men. In His exaltation, He will receive the homage of all created beings. “At the name of Jesus,” Paul concludes, “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.” All created beings must and will confess Jesus as Lord: the saints and angels in heaven, all human beings on earth, even the demons and the damned in hell. The only question is how and with what spirit they will make that confession.
Even now heaven rings with the perfect praise of the saints and angels. On earth, we sinful and imperfect believers faintly echo that heavenly praise. On Judgment Day the whole universe will stand before Jesus. His glory and majesty will be fully revealed to all. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Unbelievers, of course, will make that confession to their shame. But believers will rejoice on that great day to confess together the most important truth in all the universe. We will joyfully confess throughout eternity that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But there’s no need to wait! You can bow and confess Jesus as Lord even now, right here, week after week. Bow your head and come to the Lord in prayer, trusting that He will answer you for Jesus’ sake. Humbly confess your sins and receive Christ’s holy absolution. Kneel at His altar and receive your Lord’s very body and blood often. Hear His Word of life and salvation. For in these humble means our exalted Lord comes to you with this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.