“The Greatest Mission Trip” (Philippians 2:5-13 sermon)

After our morning service today, we have the opportunity to stay for soup and sandwiches, sponsored by our student ministry, to support the Hamburg, Germany mission trip that they will be going on this summer. I’m excited that a dozen of our young people are going — because they are following in the footsteps of the mission that Jesus undertook when He came to earth to save us.

We do all of our mission trips, because Jesus first went on mission for us. And He gives us an example here in Philippians 2 of what we should do whenever we go on mission — whether it is across the seas to Germany, or down the road at the CoMMA this week. Let’s look first of all at:


I. Jesus’ “Greatest Mission Trip”

The first thing we see here is that we are to model our own mission efforts after what Jesus did for us. Verse 5 says “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” So JESUS is the model for us as we go on mission.

So what did Jesus do, that we are to model ourselves after? The next verses tell us:

“Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

We are treading on holy ground when we come to these verses. They are some of the most majestic in all the word of God. And they teach some of the most important doctrines in all of scripture. Our son David mentioned last week that there are some “first-tier” doctrines of Christianity which we must believe to be a Christian — and these verses teach some of those:

— First of all, they teach us the DEITY of Jesus; that He was and is GOD: verse 6 says “He existed in the form of God,” yet He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Did you catch that? “EQUALITY WITH GOD.” If anyone ever questions whether the New Testament teaches the deity of Jesus Christ, you can point them to this verse, because it absolutely settles it. Jesus was “equal with God.” If you are “equal to God,” then you ARE GOD! Jesus Christ is God. As Colossians 2:9 proclaims, “In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”

Jesus was and is totally equal with God. He shared all the glory of God in heaven before He came to earth. In His last great high priestly prayer of John 17, He prayed in :5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
— That is an amazing statement: Jesus asks God to glorify HIM “together with Yourself”! WHO CAN PRAY A PRAYER LIKE THAT? Who can pray: “God, glorify ME together with YOU”?! That is an incredibly brash statement — unless the One who is making it, is God!
— AND notice He prays that the Father would glorify Him “with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” So Jesus shared the glory of God in heaven, before the world was ever created. He was in perfect glory in heaven, into which we only have the slightest glimpses in scripture:

— Isaiah 6 gives us a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne, the train of His robe filling the temple; and the seraphim angels covering their faces and their feet, and calling out “Holy, holy, holy is YAHWEH of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory”, and the whole temple filled with smoke. Isaiah couldn’t even stand to watch it; he called out “Woe is me” because of his sinful nature in the presence of the holy grandeur of Yahweh. And Jesus tells us in John 8 that HE is this “Yahweh;” “before Abraham came into being, I AM.” “I AM” is the meaning of that name “Yahweh.” Jesus was equal with God, dwelling in glory in heaven before the world ever was.

AND YET: “being equal with God,” it says He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself …”. Jesus, equal with God in heaven, knowing that we needed to be redeemed, didn’t “grasp onto” His place in heaven, but “emptied Himself” of that glory, and came to earth as a man — “taking the form of a bondservant.”

Here is a second vital doctrine these verses teach, the doctrine of the INCARNATION. ‘Incarnation” means “in-flesh-ment” — that this Yahweh God of heaven, God the Son, emptied Himself of the glory He had in heaven, and humbled Himself to come to earth as a real, 100%, flesh-and-blood man. We can’t really begin to comprehend what it would have been like for glorious, unlimited God, to become a limited, man:
— The God who said “Let there be light,” and hundreds of billions of galaxies came to light — left heaven to go to the speck of dust that is earth, which revolves around just one of those little lights He spoke into being!
— Limitless God became a little baby, who could not even bring His hand to His mouth to feed Himself.
The emptying, and humbling that Jesus endured to come to earth is something that is beyond our ability to understand.

As the old Christmas hymn says: “Thou dids’t leave Thy throne, and Thy kingly crown, when Thou camest to earth for me …”.

But WHY did He do that? He did it so that we could be saved. Verse 8 says He came and was “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
The cross was necessary because God created us to know Him, and live with Him forever in glory. But we all sinned, and deserve His punishment for our sins, and to be separated from Him forever. Amazingly, God still loved us, and left heaven in the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, and came to earth to die on the cross to pay for our sins. It took the sacrifice of a perfect, infinite God to pay for the infinite wrong of our sins against Him. And that is what Jesus did.

And He knew what He had come for:
— Jesus said in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
— He said in Matthew 20:28 that He came “to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So Jesus left heaven, and came to earth, died on the cross, paying for our sins, and rose again to prove Who He is. Now, whoever hears this and believes, and follows Him, will be saved.

So Jesus left heaven, emptied Himself of His glory there, to come to earth so that we might be saved. This was the first and “greatest mission trip.”

Most of us here are familiar with the Borden milk company and their mascot, Elsie the cow, that is on their products in virtually every supermarket. In the early 1900’s Bill Borden grew up in this family, with a mother who was a strong Christian. When he was 16, he went on an educational trip around the world, and when he returned, he was burdened that he needed take the gospel to the unreached parts of the world as a missionary. In 1905 Borden went to college at Yale, where he excelled both academically and in boxing and other sports. He was strong; he was smart; he was rich; he had “the world” ahead of him; he could have sat on corporate boards and made millions as the heir to the Borden fortune, and with all the connections and gifts that were his. But when he graduated from Yale, Bill Borden left it all for Cairo, Egypt, planning to study Islamic culture and language before leaving to evangelize lost 10 million lost Muslims in China. But he never made it to China. While in Egypt, Borden contracted spinal meningitis, and a couple of weeks later, he was dead.

Headlines around America proclaimed his death, and there were many who said, “What a waste!” This man had everything; how could he give up all that for nothing? But Bill Borden had no regrets. In fact, after his death, they found the Bible by his bedside, in which he had written just before his death: “No reserve; no retreat; no regrets”!

Some say: How could Borden give up all that?! But that is not really the question; the question should never be how could any of US give up anything, because NOTHING that any of us has ever given up, or ever will give up — not millions of dollars; not corporate boards; not athletic success; not personal happiness or glory of any kind — NOTHING we can ever give up will ever begin to compare with what JESUS gave up when He left heaven to save us!

He sacrificed everything to come to earth on that “first mission trip” for us — and now He calls us to follow in His steps, and go on mission for Him.


II. Imitating “The Greatest Mission Trip”

We shouldn’t miss that this whole passage begins with the words: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” There’s a sense in which this whole passage is about Jesus — but there is also a sense in which this whole passage is all about how WE are to IMITATE what Jesus did on His “greatest mission trip.”

So what did Jesus do on Mission, which we are to imitate?

A. Leave our Comfort Zone
As we saw, Jesus left His home and comfort in glory in the Incarnation. And He calls us to imitate that. We need to understand this: following Jesus does not mean remaining in the familiar surroundings of your home, and the comforts of your local church. The call of Jesus is “Follow Me!

So we are to imitate what He did on that first mission trip, by leaving our homes, and our comfort, and our pleasures, to go on mission to let people know about Him. Mission always involves leaving what is comfortable for us, to go to some unfamiliar, uncomfortable place. That can mean leaving the privileges and familiarity of America, to go to India, or Romania, or Germany, or some other place where we are NOT comfortable, and can’t sleep, and don’t like the food. Or it may even mean leaving our “comfort zones” right here locally, to go to places and interact with people that we are not comfortable with:
— It may mean going down to Burke United Christian Ministries to help people who in many ways are hard for you to relate to.
— It may mean going across the street, or across the aisle at work or school, to try to build a relationship with someone for Christ, when it is out of your “comfort zone.” Or asking someone to “Elf” when you don’t feel like you are “good” at doing things like that.
But that’s what mission involves — leaving our comfort zone and putting ourselves in positions where we may not be comfortable, because that is what Jesus did for us.

B. Be A Servant
But notice also, when Jesus HAD left His glory for us, He didn’t come as a majestic Lord to be served, but as a humble servant.
— Verse 7 says that when He came as a man, He “took the form of a bondservant.”
— Verse 8 says that even “being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”
Jesus, having left glory on that first “mission trip,” didn’t come high-handedly, or act condescendingly towards us. No, He came as a servant. He said in Matthew 18 “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to SERVE, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

This is what we must always remember whenever we are on mission. We are there to be servants, not bosses who are to impose our own way.

This week I read a brief biography of Lesslie Newbigin, who was a missionary/theologian who served in India in the 1900’s. But when he first arrived at India as a missionary, he was aghast at the attitude that many of the missionaries there had as they supposedly “served.” He wrote:
“I couldn’t help being horrified by the sort of relation that seems to exist between the missionaries and the people. It seems so utterly remote from the New Testament … We drive up like lords in a car, soaking everybody else with mud on the way, and … carry on a sort of inspection, finding all the faults we can, putting everyone through their paces. They all sort of stand at attention and say ‘Sir.’ It’s AWFUL …”.

Newbigin was right. That’s awful. That is nothing like the attitude that Jesus had when He came to earth. When we go as missionaries, we are to be like Him, and go as servants, not as lords.

But sadly, that doesn’t always happen. Statistically, the #1 cause of problems on the mission field, is missionaries who don’t get along with each other: “Who made THEM the boss?” “Why do I have to do this dirty job?” But they’ve lost the idea that on mission they are supposed to be following in the steps of Jesus, who didn’t come to be served, but to serve.

Whenever we are on mission, we must remember that we are called to follow Jesus’ example and be servants, doing what sometimes appears as menial tasks.

This is so applicable to the mission that God has set before us this week, as we present “Elf” at the CoMMA. As Jim & I have said several times, we aren’t going there to “put on a show;” this is a “mission trip;” we’re going to reach people for Jesus. It’s just that instead of going thousands of miles across the seas to reach people for Jesus, we are just going 8 miles downtown. But make no mistake, this IS a mission trip! And what’s neat about it is that instead of a handful of people going like on most trips, our whole church gets to do this “mission trip” together. But as we go on mission together next week, we need to remember to model our behavior after what Jesus did on His Great Mission trip.

We’ve got to exhibit His attitudes of humility and service as we go. There is SO much important work to be done this week — and not just for the few “stars” of the show. SO many things have to go on “behind the scenes”; which are perhaps not noticeable to everyone, but without them the program would not be possible:
— there’s the men who built the Christmas tree and the women who decorated it
— the light and sound crew, who work behind the scenes, but nothing would be seen or heard at all this week without them!
— the costume makers, makeup artists, childcare workers, kitchen workers, stage crew, greeters, counselors, prayer warriors — and on and on.
There are SO many opportunities for little acts of service this week: doing makeup, watching children, sweeping floors, shuttling and greeting guests — and on and on. They may seem like “little” things, but without them, the program could not be done. Doing those “little” things, as servants, is what mission is all about.

Tish Warren wrote that “A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: ‘Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.’” She went on to say: “I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. but it’s in the dailyness of the Christian faith — the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small — that God’s transformation takes root and grows.” (Tish Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary)

She’s saying it’s those “little things” that make or break your Christian life. And that’s also how it will be at the CoMMA this week too. Don’t think that what you’re doing isn’t important because you aren’t the Elf, or you don’t have a solo. DON’T THINK THAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS “LITTLE.” DOING “LITTLE” THINGS IS WHAT MISSION IS! Following Jesus on mission means humbling yourself like He did, to do what may seem like “little” works of service, with perhaps no earthly recognition or reward, but believing that God blesses and uses those “little” acts of faithfulness.

It’s that way on any mission trip: whether it’s at the CoMMA, or at Burke United Ministries, or Romania or India or the “mission” God’s given you at your job or your school. Imitate the attitude Jesus had when He went on that first, greatest mission trip, and go as a servant, not a lord; to serve, not to be served.


One thing is for sure. If Jesus had not gone on that first, greatest mission trip, NONE of us would have ever been saved. He could NOT have saved us, and stayed where He was. He had to leave heaven, and go on mission, that we might be saved.

This summer, a 25-year-old woman from Staten Island was swimming in the waters off of Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, when she started having trouble, and screamed for someone to save her. Several people were standing on the shore nearby, and one called for help. But one man, who was a former lifeguard, knew what he had to do. He stripped off his shirt, jumped in the water, got the woman, and pulled her safely to shore. That woman couldn’t have saved herself. Just calling out instructions, or making gestures, or words of encouragement from somebody standing on the beach, would never have saved her. Somebody had to leave the safety and comfort of where they were on the shore, and jump into that water where she was, and save her.

That’s what Jesus did for us. He couldn’t have stayed in heaven and saved us. No amount of teaching, or signs, or anything else would have brought about our salvation. Jesus had to leave the comfort and glory where He was in heaven, and come here to die on that first “mission trip” so that we might be saved.

And to those of us who have been saved by Him, now Jesus says: “You Follow Me.” He calls us to do for others, what He did for us, and go on mission. That can take a lot of different forms: He calls some of us to be full-time missionaries, like our Southern Baptist missionaries we are supporting with the Lottie Moon Offering. Many of us are called to go on short-term mission trips, like our students are goin on to Germany. We have one great opportunity to go on mission this very week at the CoMMA. It’s going be cool out; it is going to get dark at 5:00, and if we’re honest, many of us would say that we feel like just sitting by the fireplace at home instead of getting out. But we aren’t going to do that; we are going to go out — some of us, every night this week. But remember as you do, that you aren’t just “putting on a show” this week; you are going “on mission”, following in the steps of Jesus who left His home in glory for you on that first, “Greatest Mission Trip.”

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “The Greatest Mission Trip” (Philippians 2:5-13 sermon)

  1. Norine says:

    This was so good.

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