Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Empty Promise (Philippians 2:1-13)

OK, try a mental exercise for me. I’ll give a number and you picture that number – not the numeral, which is the written character we use to show the number, but the number itself. I’ll make it easy – I’m going to say the number and you picture that many apples, let’s say.

So when I say “5,” you picture five apples. When I say “2,” you picture two apples. When I say “9,” you picture nine apples. And you may notice that when we get to numbers past six or seven, we usually break the number down into groups. When I said “9,” you may have pictured three groups of three apples, or a group of four and a group of five. Most people start breaking them up into groups about there.

I read about a study where they showed people a picture of a certain number of items and then hid it before asking how many there were. The record was sixteen or seventeen, if I remember right. So the human brain hits a limit at recognizing about sixteen or seventeen things at once.

Now, the best estimate on the size of the universe is about 17 billion light years across. If you remember your science, you know light moves at 186,000 miles per second, and a “light year” is how far light travels in a year. The closest star to us is four light years away, which means we see it the way it looked in 2004. If it blew up in 2006, we won’t know it for two more years.

God created the entire universe and can contain it in a single thought. Everything in those 17 billion light years, from the largest to the smallest and all their combina-tions from the beginning of time, can be conceived by the mind of God in just one thought. And we do good to hit 17 of anything. So you can see why this verse talks about Christ “emptying” himself in order to take human form and live as one of us.

Why do you think he did that? I know it brought about our salvation, but why this way of all ways? Christ could have healed his relationship with humanity in any way he wished but he chose to empty himself and live as one of us.

There are a bunch of answers, but here’s one that resonates with me, especially when I consider just how far beyond human knowledge God really is. I know God loves me and I base my life on it. But there’s a part of me that just wonders how God could know what it was like to go through life as a limited, fallible, screwed-up human being? Obviously, if God knows everything, he knows those things too, but my own human limitations still give me that question.

It’s like being comforted by someone who hasn’t gone through the same issue they’re trying to offer comfort for. You may appreciate the thought and even be grateful, but there’s a gap in their connection with your problem. It’s always there, and it’s why people often turn to support groups with similar experiences when they’re trying to heal after a tragedy.

But in Christ, we have proof, if you want to use that word, that God has in fact experienced what it means to be human. Everything from being hungry to having your feet hurt to taking a whiff of yourself after a long sweaty day and knowing you need a bath. Being betrayed or abandoned by friends, wrongfully accused, you name it. Jesus went through it, and somehow that helps me make my connection with God easier.

Here’s another example – for nearly 70 years, Superman has been one of the most popular characters on the planet. He’s known almost everywhere and is still popular today. I read a magazine article where some college researchers interviewed people to determine why Superman was so popular and well-known. It wasn’t the powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, although those would be cool.

No, people connect with Superman because of Clark Kent. Nobody can really connect with what it would be like to fly or be more powerful than a locomotive. But Clark Kent gets yelled at by his boss. Clark Kent can’t get the time of day from Lois Lane. Things like that, people connect with, because they’ve been through those things.

So when I hear the story of Jesus, I know I’m hearing the story of a real human being who went through real human stuff, rather than some sort of spirit that just pretended about it. And since that human being is also the divine Son of God, then I can be assured that God does indeed have an understanding of what limited human life is like. He didn’t do it so he would know, because he already knew. He did it so we would know he knew. He promises redemption for human beings, and he knows what we need redeemed from, knows it from the inside. So his promise, the promise that comes from his emptying himself, is true and we can know it.

Good news, indeed, for us all.

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