Down and Out… but in a good way

In the late 1940s, Kirk Alyn donned blue tights and a red cape for Saturday serials, and after dropping his voice an octave, loosening his tie and proclaiming, “This looks like a job for Superman,” he would lift his arms, shout “Up, Up and Away!” and jump out of a window.

In 1965, when evil threatened the world, Atom Ant would bolt out of his anthill, which was equipped with a mainframe computer and exercise equipment, preceded by his superhero catchphrase, “Up and at ‘em, Atom Ant!”

In 1967, The Fifth Dimension invited us to go “Up, Up and Away” in their beautiful, their beautiful balloon.

Our culture, it seems, has always equated success and happiness with going up. And, frankly, there is nothing wrong with that. Most people would rather be “up” than “down.” And, in the Kingdom of God, we also recognize that Jesus said if He were “lifted up,” He would draw all people to Himself. And, even though it is clear that He was speaking of being lifted up on a cross, it is not wrong to speak of Jesus being “lifted up” in terms of being exalted by His people.

In fact, one of the most quoted passages of Scripture can be found in Philippians 2, where Paul states, regarding Jesus, that God has “exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 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.”

If you’re like me, though, you might have quoted this verse with the wrong motive for years. Too often, the above passage is used with a “just you wait, you’ll get yours!” attitude. “Okay, Mr. Atheist/Unbeliever/Person-Who-Isn’t-In-My-Camp-So-You-Must-Be-Lost, one day God will force you to agree that Jesus is Lord, right before you’re thrown in a lake of fire. Who’s gonna be right, then, mister?”

And yet, this is the exact polar opposite of the spirit in which Paul wrote those words. Sometimes we neglect to see that the word that kicks off that passage is “Therefore,” which, of course, refers to whatever came before it. In this case, it is about what Jesus did to deserve this magnificent exaltation—He went down: “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!” (Phil. 2:5-8)

Look at that phrase again, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” Remember in Genesis 3 when the serpent is tempting Eve (and, as we know from the story, Adam as well)? What was his main point? “If you eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will be like God and know what He knows.” And in that moment, Adam considered equality with God something to be grasped. Jesus considered it something to be laid aside. I believe that in that one test is found the heart of redemption. It is in this that Adam failed, bringing sin to the human race, but Jesus succeeded, bringing redemption. Adam sought to go up, up and away for himself. Jesus kept going down, down, and out, not considering His own good, but the good heart of the Father for the sake of all mankind.

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