Every day now, the leaves turn deeper shades of yellow and red, and more and more are falling to the ground. We spoke last week of how the autumn represents a kind of death—a death that came into this world at the entrance of sin. Yet how is it that the death of these leaves can bring with it such vibrancy, color and beauty? As we explore today in the falling leaves, I want to invite you to bring your Bible and discover the priceless beauty of being emptied.
He was an intelligent and promising young man. Growing up in the nation chosen and favored by God, he had chosen a noble career and had excelled in his calling. Not only was he well-learned, but those of his profession were especially entrusted with the task of writing—writing and preserving important records of history, and most importantly, copying the words of the sacred scriptures, just as his ancestors had done for generations.
While others of his generations toiled day by day to earn a meager living, he felt that his heart was being filled with meaning and purpose. He excelled at his calling, and his peers and even superiors took note of his work. As he excelled in his career, so he had no need to worry about his financial situation. He was willing to take risks, and as a shrewd manager, his investments usually paid off well. He was able to afford the comforts of life. His life was being filled with the good things of life—enough to make any parent proud, and to attract to himself friends from the highest ranks of society.
While his life was being filled, another Man walked the dusty streets of his home town, seemingly without any of the good things of life. But He spoke with such profound meaning, His words seemed to touch the very hearts of his hearers. Some said He was the Messiah—could it be? He would find out. If so, this could become the opportunity of his lifetime!
As this young scribe approached Jesus, he was taken back by his humble appearance. He certainly didn’t run in the same fashionable circles, yet there was something attractive about his teaching, and he was drawn to Jesus. Something about His words made him feel as though Jesus could read his very thoughts!
19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”
20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Nothing? Nowhere to live? It was a difficult saying. Perhaps the young scribe was taken back. He questioned whether he truly wanted to link his interests with this humble teacher. But maybe, yes, maybe this was his calling. Jesus held so much promise, he thought, and maybe he could help Jesus come out of this cloud of humility and realize his potential in Israel! At any rate, he decided to take his chances with Jesus, and we find that, when the twelve were sent out, his name was among them.
This promising young scribe quickly became a favorite among the disciples. He was handsome and well-to-do, and it was easy to see he was a good manager. When the disciples were sent out, he was sent out with them. He was glad to be part of this up-and-coming movement, but the generosity of Jesus constantly chaffed at him. He couldn’t get Jesus’ parting words out of his mind:
Matthew 10:8 “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
Freely give? But how free is free? I can understand giving, after all, when you have plenty. It’s easy to give when you have extra to spare, but Jesus’ kind of giving hurt.
v. 9-10 “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.”
Yet as he and the disciples went out, and did as Jesus said, they discovered how, despite their continual giving, they never lacked.
Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.
As you know, over the past weeks we’ve been talking about the Ten Commandments—God’s rule for life. For the past three weeks, we’ve talked about the first four commandments, dealing especially with our worship toward God. We’re ready to start looking at the last six commandments, but before we do, I wanted to take our message today to look at a principle that lies at the very heart of the Ten Commandments.
If you recall, one principle I’ve emphasized over and over, is how the Ten Commandments embody the nature of their author. They are a transcript of God’s character—describing not just how we are to behave, but giving us principles to understand God’s love and allowing that love to be reflected in our own lives.
Friends, I believe nowhere do we find a picture of this love more vivid, than in the condescension of Jesus Christ, who is God, to come to this fallen earth as a human being.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
This phrase “of no reputation” is translated from the Greek word “Kenosis.” which means to empty one’s self. Imagine a vessel, being poured out on the ground—this is the picture Paul gives us of Christ.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.
All summer, this leaf has been living and green. Water travels through its veins, bringing nutrients to the cells, where Chlorophyll transforms the sunlight into energy for the plant. But now, it’s supply of water and nutrients has been cut off. The green chlorophyll has dried up, and now we see the natural pigments underneath.
Just as the leaf empties itself of life to let its vibrant color show through, so Jesus—God—emptied himself. First, He emptied Himself by becoming a human being. He emptied himself again living a life of humility. So unlike Judas, the scribe, he never sought his own advantage. At every opportunity, He chose to give of Himself, until in His great act of love and sacrifice, He gave up His own life on the cross!
We marvel and the condescension of Jesus, yet when we look at the Ten Commandments, we discover that this is exactly the character of God described so long ago from Mount Sinai.
In describing these Ten Commandments, God is describing the freedom of choice that He has given each of us. These are not natural laws like the law of gravity—these are laws that inform our choices. They describe our ability—freedom—to do all manner of things, but at the same time call upon us to give up those choices that bring harm to God or to others.
There is nothing to prevent me from worshiping any gods of my choosing, but the Law of God calls upon me to give up myself and my own desires, and worship only God. There is nothing to prevent me from breaking the Sabbath or taking God’s name in vain, but the Law of God calls me to give up these things, to empty myself of my own desires and honor God by keeping His Sabbath and honoring His name.
In the same way, the last 6 commandments describe how in selfishness we can violate our neighbor—by taking his life or property, withholding the truth, or being unfaithful in our relationships. Yet God’s law commands us to empty ourselves of our own desires, and respect the boundaries that God has placed upon our human relationships, just as we would honor God Himself.
This, I believe, is the essence of God’s moral law. It’s not about so many “do’s” and “don’ts” It’s about partaking of the character of God, allowing Him to empty us of self and to write His law within our hearts.
This, I believe, is why the psalmist could say of God’s law, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” It is not about meditating about what you can and can’t do—like the Pharisees, but meditating upon the meaning of the law—how God empties Himself and how we, like Jesus, can be emptied of our own selfishness.
This is how Jesus could expound upon the law in the Sermon on the Mount—showing that it isn’t just the outward action that violates the law, but even the selfish intent. As He pointed out to Nicodemus, only by having our hearts transformed can we even begin to hope to keep this law!
Jeremiah 31:33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days — the LORD’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
Yet when our hearts are transformed by His grace—then His law becomes written in our hearts. We still keep the law—not just in spirit but also in letter—but it’s no longer an outward exercise. The law has now power to save us from guilt, but it does describe the character of one who has been emptied of self, and transformed into a godly character.
Jesus told his disciples:
Matthew 10:38 “whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
But then, His disciples still didn’t understand. It wrankled in the heart of Judas the scribe. Judas couldn’t imagine giving up everything he had worked so hard for! How could Jesus be so—so humble. So willing to pour Himself out. Over the three-and-a-half years of his earthly ministry, time and again Jesus demonstrated this humility to his disciples. Each time, Judas’ heart became more hardened.
As the disciples and Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last week, Judas’ heart was in turmoil. He had spent so much time with Jesus—He had hoped Jesus would eventually proclaim Himself king, but now Jesus’ life was taking an opposite turn. Judas had seen plenty of evidence that Jesus was more than human, but he couldn’t get past this thought—that every time Jesus had opportunity to exalt Himself, he turned aside and gave the glory to another.
Finally, Judas made his mind up. Because he couldn’t give up himself, Satan took advantage of him to use him for his own purposes.
Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.
14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.
There Judas was—coins in his purse, having sold his Lord on a bargain for a few pieces of silver. He comes back to the disciples, pretending like nothing has happened. Jesus knew, but he said nothing. As they prepare to partake of of the passover meal, Jesus takes the towel and begins to perform the task of a humble servant—washing the disciples feet. Thomas, James, Andrew, John, and Peter. Peter objects at first—he can’t stand to see Jesus humbling himself like that—but finally allows Jesus to wash his feet. Then he comes to Judas. Judas—the one who has already sold him to death, and there, Jesus bows and washes his betrayers feet.
What love! What condescension! Friends, this is what it means that Jesus emptied Himself! And he says to His disciples, and to us:
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
Brothers and sisters, what does it mean to follow Jesus’ example? Yes, in church we celebrate this communion by actually washing each other’s feet—and I think it is a beautiful symbol, as Jesus described to Peter—of the washing and cleansing. But in a broader sense, Jesus is calling each and every one of us to do what He did: to bow ourselves before God, and before our fellow man. To empty ourselves—to allow Him to transform us, to write His character in our hearts. And only as we do this, will we truly understand the meaning of His Ten Commandments.