Philippians – Part 6

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

The Most Expensive Inauguration

Have you ever gotten a political fundraising letter in the mail? Sometimes we receive a request from a person who isn’t even hoping to serve in our district! A person writing to us—or at least their computer is—asks: “Help me win a new senate term in Ohio.” Now, if we’re very loyal party people, we might send $15 to a politician we like. But that would only be if we really cared about the agenda and the vision that person and his or her party had articulated for the nation.

Let me take you to a difficult Thursday afternoon. It was August 8, 1974; you history buffs will remember that this date spelled the end of Watergate. President Richard Nixon had come down to the culminating moments of his time in Washington. Vice President Gerald Ford had just heard from Nixon that his boss would be resigning the next day. In less than 24 hours, Ford would become America’s 38th President.

It was a truly sad day for the nation. Even die-hard Democrats had tears streaming down their faces as they watched the saga unfold. It was an optimistic moment when newly sworn-in Gerald Ford gave his inaugural speech to the nation, promising a new era of openness. After two years of such tumult, accusations, and anger, at least now there might possibly be some peace. And even though this was not a moment of shining glory and pride and pomp and circumstance, there still was going to be a swearing-in ceremony, our U.S. equivalent of a kingly inauguration.

The difficulty was that President Ford and his fledgling “kitchen cabinet” had to immediately attend to literally hundreds of details about a ceremony, a speech, an invitation list. Truth be told, there were two Ford aides, named Whitehead and Buchen, who had secretly working on a possible Nixon/Ford transition for months. It would have been imprudent to not make at least some plans. Naturally, such background work had to be done under the strictest of covert codes.

But now this question: who should officiate at swearing-in ceremony? The normal protocol was that Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger should administer the oath of office. But for the month of August, Burger was over in the Netherlands, attending a conference at Hague. Ford’s personal aide, a Jack Marsh, finally managed to get Burger on phone. The President-to-be said: “Mr. Chief Justice, I guess you’ve heard the news. I hate to interrupt your trip, but I would like it very much if you could be here for the swearing in.”

And today I want for us to learn something from what this wise man in the black robe said. The Chief Justice immediately cut in. “Well, there’s no question. I’ve got to be there. I want to be there.”

They briefly discussed the logistics and the reality of the many time zones separating them. It was already Thursday evening in Europe, and the swearing-in was scheduled for noon Eastern time the very next day. How could Burger possibly get back to Washington? Ford, also realizing the significance of this transition and how crucial it was that every step be done in order, provided the solution: “Mr. Chief Justice,” he said, “we’ll get an Air Force plane to personally fly you here for the ceremony.” Problem solved.

You see, some events are so important: you simply must do whatever it takes. An Adventist pastor who shepherded a large congregation with a substantial team, lost his father after a lengthy illness. His parents had lived about 500 miles away, and he made plans to go to the funeral. Lo and behold, as he entered the church, there was his entire pastoral team. They had gotten into a van and ridden across the state to attend and show their love. His face immediately melted with gratitude, and he blurted out: “Oh, you saints.” It was a huge gesture; it made such a difference. But an inauguration would be most important of all.

At the conclusion of Watergate, this judge’s determination to get back home for this most important moment speaks to us in a poignant way as we move now to grand climax of Paul’s description in Philippians chapter two. We’ve already studied together how Jesus Christ, the King of the universe, came down. He came way down to this sorry, scandal-ridden world. He was “obedient unto death,” the Bible says, obedient to the plan He and His Father had together created for your rescue and for mine. Let’s read these words again in Phil. 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Now Paul begins to describe what is about to come next, after the humbling and the tears and the blood and the ignominy of the grave. What follows? This is incredible: an inauguration, a swearing-in ceremony, the coronation of a victorious King. Verse 9: “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”

What is that royal name? We already have “King of kings” and “Lord of lords.” Isaiah chapter 9 gives us Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. In Revelation chapter 19, we’re also told that the Rider on a white horse is called Faithful and True. In fact, we read there that Jesus also has a name written on Him that is so special, so holy, so sacred—no man can know what it is.

There’s a delightful scene from the play, The King and I. The monarch of Siam decides to help the beleaguered President Lincoln in his Civil War struggles; surely Abe could use some of Thailand’s finest elephants in combat! His letter to America’s Commander in Chief contains such high-flying titles as: “Most Royal and Noble Highness.” “Most August Keeper of the Flame of Liberty.” “Wearer of a Thousand Lotus Blossoms.” Now, these were lots of empty words, not signifying very much except that someone owns an English-Thai dictionary and a companion thesaurus.

But here in Philippians 2, Jesus receives a name that is “above every name,” a name that is real, that has meaning and is expressive of the unsurpassed victory He has achieved.

Now verses ten and eleven are where you and I come in. Up until now, Christ Jesus has done these things without our say-so. He hasn’t asked our permission about going to Calvary; He didn’t submit His salvation project to a subcommittee or a Sanhedrin. He’s triumphed on our behalf whether or not we approve or applaud. We’re invited to have these same attitudes, to share the same mind as Christ, but it’s up to us whether or not we’ll do so.

But now at last comes our moment. At this grand climax, we have something very special to do. Verses 10, 11: “That at the name of Jesus 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.”

There’s something very interesting to consider here. Every knee will bow, Paul tells us. Heavenly beings will bow. Earthly beings will bow. Every earthly being: the saved and the lost. Loyal subjects and rebels alike. This expression, and under the earth, comes from an ancient Hebrew idiom implying the entire creation, including Lucifer and his fallen, rebellious angel armies. No one will be missing on that day of cosmic transition.

Let’s go to the very back of our Bibles, and the book of Revelation 20:4, 5, 9: They [the saved] came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) . . . In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves.

Now, we as Adventists believe that following the thousand-year millennium, there will be a time when every single person who’s ever lived on this planet will be alive—all at the same moment. Even the lost, the most determined of rebels will be involved in this dreaded “second resurrection.”

This brings us to a question that many Christians have wondered about. If at the conclusion of the millennium, the dead are already dead, why does God raise up those who have relentlessly rejected Jesus and His gift of eternal life, only to allow them to then die again in the final flames? If the saved are safely in the City of God, and the rebels of Planet Earth are sleeping amid the dirt and the debris of the last days, why upset this idyllic scene of peace? Why go through a final battle?

Well, one good reason is so that God can display to the entire universe His incredible gift of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, to offer the watching worlds a full panorama of His dealings with our one lost human race. Every generation of Planet Earth: Adam, Eve, Cain, through to Hitler, and Osama bin Laden, the hijackers on this jets, the architects of tomorrow’s madness and genocide and heresy: they will all be alive at once. Everyone will see for themselves the goodness of God and the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Somehow Philippians 2 is going to come to life right here in a dramatic, compelling way.

Then slowly, perhaps reluctantly, every lost sinner, including Lucifer himself, will bow the knee to Jesus Christ. Every person who has ever lived, saved or lost, redeemed or unrepentant, will confess verbally and openly that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and deserving of the throne.

What, then, does this mean for us? Listen, friend, you and I have simply got to be there. We must not miss that moment, that inauguration day. This is the single greatest moment in the history of the universe; you and I have got to be there. We must be there whatever it takes. We must be there whatever planes must be chartered. We must be there whatever sacrifices must be made. We must be there whatever commitments it might involve. You and I have got to be standing among the redeemed as our Redeemer and Hero and King and Savior and Friend steps forward to receive that crown and to be exalted to the highest place.

On August 9, 1974, at the end of the Watergate crisis, a tragic chapter was finally closed. A new beginning was possible. President Ford put his hand on the Bible, took the oath, and then said simply to the nation: “Our long national nightmare is over.”

Now on this great day, can you imagine what it will all mean? When Jesus is crowned as our King? Sin is gone! Suffering is over with. Death is banished forever. Every sickness, every lonely pang, every funeral, every memory of cemeteries and car accidents and rape and theft and murder . . . gone forever. There will be no more television episodes of programs like Law and Order, because those heartbreaking crimes will be a thing of the past. The long national nightmare will be over at last, because Jesus is crowned as our King.

Again, every single person will confess that Christ is Lord. But I want to confess that truth from the side of the saved, don’t you? I want to call Jesus a Redeemer from the ranks of the redeemed. Don’t you want to make that confession with overwhelming joy rather than with reluctant dread? The celebration won’t be as complete, as perfect, unless you are standing there and I am standing there.

Over in Netherlands on that Thursday night, Chief Justice Warren Burger knew that he absolutely HAD to get back. Whatever it took. Whatever it cost. If he had to swim the Atlantic Ocean, he had to be there. Partly because he needed to fulfill his governmental role. Partly because it was the proper thing to do. Partly because he had a nodding acquaintance, at least a bit of friendship, with a man named Gerald Rudolph Ford.

Now, I don’t personally know our current president, and as far as I am aware, he doesn’t know me. But we know Jesus! Can you and I possibly fathom how very important it is for us to be present at this coronation moment? We know Jesus! And He knows us! He’s not a distant leader; He’s the One who redeemed each one of us on a personal basis. He died for you and He died for me. It is absolutely imperative that we be there on that day, to add our voices to the choir, our cheers to the crowd, our banners and our salutes and our tears and our cries of triumph to the great redeemed throng.

If someone I knew was being inaugurated as President next January, I would buy plane tickets, I would ride the Metro, I would pay to rent a car, to reserve hotel rooms, buy mittens for the snowy weather, get $500 tickets to the ball. I would do whatever it took! And yes, it costs quite a bit to get to that chair reserved with your name on it.

Picture a high school or university getting ready for graduation. They have rented hundreds of white folding chairs, and they’re all set out on the football field. And by the way, your child is being honored as a valedictorian. Would you have trouble getting to that event? Would a baseball game or a favorite TV show or a conflict at work keep you from attending? Would other priorities crowd out this cherished moment? Don’t be stupid! You would make sure that you had a chair and that you had a ticket.

Well, I can tell you something. At this very moment, heaven is already setting up for the parade of Philippians 2. The great war is almost over. Calvary is a fait accompli. Jesus has triumphed. Already, streamers being set up, the PA system getting checked, the massive big-screen projection systems have been rolled in so we can all see. The platform is in place.

And there is a white throne at the very center of it.

Somewhere in that vast spread of seats, the rows and rows and rows, is a chair that has your name carefully written on it. Computer printouts indicate that it’s been reserved for you. And next to your name is the price: the cost of having that chair in place for you to sit in. The infinite price paid on a hill far away.

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