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April 5, 2015

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Look at the extent of Jesus’ humiliation: The Master becomes the Servant, the One who gives the commands becomes the One who obeys the commands, and his obedience goes to the point of death, and not just any death, but the ignominy and shame of death on a cross.

But this journey of Jesus does not end at the cross.  We rejoice at Easter because “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

Every knee should bow and every tongue confess…  Where did the apostle Paul get this?  It is lifted directly from the prophet Isaiah: “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’ [Footnote: every tongue shall confess to God] (Isa. 45:23).

In the writing of Philippians 2, the Holy Spirit pressed this prophecy from Isaiah into the mind of the Apostle, and when he takes it up, he says, “What God spoke about himself through the prophet Isaiah, will be fulfilled through Jesus Christ who is risen and exalted.”

Here is the Easter message that I want to bring from these two passages: God’s unbreakable promise: Every knee shall bow, at the name of Jesus.

God’s Unbreakable Promise

“By myself I have sworn!”  (Isaiah 45:23)
This is very strong language.  To swear is to take a solemn oath.  When a person gives testimony in a court of law, they are ‘sworn in.’  That is, they will take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The reason we have oaths is that many things we say in the course of life turn out not to be true.  We make promises that we don’t keep.  We commit to things that we don’t deliver.  We say things that we thought were true, but sometimes they turn out different.

When I was a teenager, our family went on a vacation.  The place we had booked turned out to be a great disappointment – bad food, in a bad hotel, with some unusually bad weather.

Being a rather disgruntled 14 year old in the back seat of the car, as we got ready for the 500 mile drive back home, I said, “Well, I am never coming back here again.”  Five years later I met and fell in love with a girl who just happened to come from that same town.  Since she is my wife, I have been going there, with great joy, ever since!  I’ve visited that town more often than any other town in the whole country.  Not everything we say turns out to be true!

So when we come to things that are really important, we raise our language to the highest level.  When I married Karen, I wanted to pledge my love and loyalty to her with a promise that would be stronger than my words about never visiting her town… which ultimately proved to be very wide of the mark!  So I made a vow, “This, I really mean.”

Here, in Isaiah 45, we have God himself making a vow.  But God does not need to make vows.  Every word that God speaks is true.  God cannot lie.  He is never in error.  He knows the end from the beginning and so there are no unforeseen circumstances to make him change his mind.  God’s words do not need to be strengthened with a vow.

But God knows that we live in a world where promises are often broken.  We are so used to words that cannot be trusted that we find it difficult to believe the Word of God.  So for our sakes, when God communicates a promise that is of supreme importance, he marks out his words with a sacred vow, “I have sworn.”

When we swear an oath, we do this by calling on something or someone of greater value to witness our vow and to hold us accountable to keeping our word.  People sometimes say, “I swear by my life” or “I swear on my mother’s grave.”  Why would a person say this?

When a person speaks like that, they are looking for something sacred on which they can hang their word.  They’re saying, “I love my mother; she’s sacred to me.”  But when God swears an oath, there is nothing higher by which he can swear, so he swears by himself (see Hebrews 6:13-18).

Take in the weight of this.  Here is God himself reinforcing with the highest, strongest language, his supreme commitment to something that he wants every person to know for sure, without a shadow of doubt.  It is as if God is saying here, “If there is one thing you can be certain of in this world, this is it!”  What is it?


Every Knee Shall Bow

“By myself I have sworn… ‘To me, every knee shall bow.’”  (Isaiah 45:23)

“Every knee will one day bow before me,” says God.  He is not saying that every knee will bow before the church.  He is not saying that some human beings will be exalted above others. The entire human race is a level playing field, and every one of us, without exception, will bow before God.

Women and men, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, republican and democrat, Muslim, atheist, and Jew, movers and shakers from Hollywood, computer geeks and athletes – every knee will bow to God!  Every tongue will confess to him!  None of us will be smugly looking at our neighbor who rejected our faith (with arms crossed), saying “I told you so.”  Because we will be on our faces before Almighty God.

We know from Romans 1 that God has placed some knowledge of himself in the heart of every person on the planet.  God’s eternal power and his divine nature can be seen clearly in the things God has made (Rom. 1:19-20).

Somewhere in our hearts we know that God is God, but it is in our nature to push him away.  We evade him.  We resist him. We suppress the truth that he has revealed about himself (Rom. 1:18).  While it is true that every knee will bow, in this life there are some pretty stiff knees that won’t easily bow before God!  Does anyone have stiff knees?

The stiff knee of materialism

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”   (Mark 10:25)

Why did Jesus say that?  Because money is a power that grabs the human heart and usurps the place of God.  The love of money is a stiff knee that resists bowing to God.

The disciples were amazed at these words and said to Jesus, “Who then can be saved?  If the people who’ve ‘made it’ in life can’t even enter heaven, then who can?”  Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

With God, all things are possible, like loving God more than you love money.  Only God can wean your heart to love him more than money.  If you love God more than money, and the things it can buy, like houses, vacations, and entertainment, it is a miracle of grace.  Even though materialism is a stiff knee that resists bowing to God, every knee will bow.

The stiff knee of individualism

We live in a postmodern world, and postmodernism puts ‘self’ in the place of God.  Truth is no longer defined not by what God says, but by what you say.  So there is no such thing as truth from God that applies to all people, only truth ‘as I see it’, that which is true ‘for me.’  Morality is no longer what is right and wrong as defined by God, but only what is right and wrong as defined by each person, or what is right ‘for me.’

The spirit of the poem Invictus is all around us, [1]

I am the master of my fate.

I am the captain on my soul.

People quote this as if it were a virtuous thing to say; it is blasphemous!  This is the great spirit of the age in which we live.  Individualism is a stiff knee that resists bowing to God.  But every knee will bow.

The stiff knee of atheism

Materialism puts money in the place of God.  Individualism put self in the place of God.  Atheism says that there is no God.  Atheism is a stiff knee, but here in the Scriptures we read

that God says, “To me, every knee will bow!”  Every knee will bow, but we will not bow in the same way.  Every person will bow before God in one of two ways:


Some will bow as defeated rebels

Every knee should bow… in heaven, and on earth and under the earth.  (Philippians 2:10)

‘In heaven’ refers to the angels and ‘under the earth’ refers to the dark world of evil spirits.  We know from the Gospels that evil spirits bow before Jesus, but they do not turn to him in repentance.  They remain his enemies.  They bow as defeated rebels, and what we are being told here is that some people on earth will be like them.

In Isaiah 45, God speaks about these people: “to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him” (Isa. 45:24).  Have you noticed that the world is increasingly incensed with Jesus Christ?  No one has ever been hated more than he has in the history of the world, and no one has ever been more loved.

Here are people who go through life incensed against God.  They have no place for him in their lives and see no place for him in the world.  They set themselves against God and they are driven by a strong passion.  Picture the drama of the scene as death sweeps them into his presence.  They cannot avoid him.  They bow the knee as defeated rebels.

All who are incensed will be ashamed!  Imagine what it would be like for these two words, ‘incensed’ and ‘ashamed’ to be a person’s experience forever.  Hell is a world where people are always incensed and always ashamed.  That is why Jesus said that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:50).

Nothing could be worse than for a person to bow the knee to God as a defeated rebel, to be locked into a rebellion you have chosen for ever and ever, to go on being incensed against God, and at the same time, to be ashamed forever.

Others will bow as willing servants

Every knee should bow, in heaven…  (Philippians 2:10)

This is a reference to the angels in heaven bowing before God as willing servants.  They are always before God’s throne, and with great joy they give themselves to doing his will.

Some people on earth will be like them.  So Isaiah says here, “In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory” (Isa. 45:25).  To be ‘justified’ is to be in a right relationship with God.  To ‘glory’ is to be filled with wonder, delight, and joy.

So, to put this together, God says on oath: “To me every knee will bow.”  The whole of humanity will bow, without exception.  But some bow as defeated rebels, while others bow as willing servants.  Some are incensed and ashamed; others are justified and full of joy.  Some will be with the angels who are forever willing servants.  Others will be with the devils who are forever defeated rebels.


At the Name of Jesus

“By myself I have sworn… ‘To me, every knee shall bow.’”  (Isaiah 45:23)

I want you to see how these words are taken up in the New Testament and they are applied directly to Jesus Christ: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).

God has highly exalted Jesus – the One who was in the form of God, but did not hang onto what was his by right, and was born in human likeness, took the form of a servant and was obedient, even to death on a cross.

God has exalted him “and bestowed on him the name…”  Every Jew would have known what this meant because this name, to the Jew, was too sacred even to pronounce – the great “I Am!”  Yahweh!  God Almighty!  The Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer!  The Sovereign Lord of the universe!  This is who Jesus Christ is!

He is God in the Flesh.  He is God with us.  He is God among us.  He is God acting for us.  And the Scripture says that God has bestowed on him ‘the name,’ so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil. 2:10).  That is, we bow before Jesus in a way that a person should only bow before Almighty God.

The great promise that God swore by himself: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue confess…” will be fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ.  Every knee will bow before him.  Every tongue will confess that he is Lord.  And doing this will be “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).

Read the Gospel of John and you will see how the life of Jesus is bound up with the life of the Father.  He is God with us, God in the flesh, and that is why he says:

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10).

“As the Father has life in himself,
so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).

“As the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).

“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,

that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (John 5:22).

“Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).

You say, “I want to honor God.”  Here’s how you honor God: Honor Jesus.  You say, “I want to worship God.”  Here’s how you worship God: You bow before Jesus.  You say, “I want to be more committed to God.”  Here’s how you confess your allegiance to God: You confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Three Words

I want to apply what we have seen in the Bible today in three words:

1. Believe

God has said, on oath: “To me every knee shall bow.”  Do you believe this?  Do you believe that every person on the face of the planet, and every person who has ever lived will bow before God, either as a defeated rebel or as a willing servant?  Is it a settled conviction that one day this will happen?

God has said this on oath: He has sworn it by himself.  So if you do not believe what God has sworn by himself, how will you believe anything else that God has said?  You say, “I believe.”  This is the great test of any claim to believe.  Do you believe this?   Do you believe what God has sworn by himself?  Is this clear to you?  Is this settled in your mind?

Friend, you do not want to go through life vacillating on this, as a person who refuses to believe the most fundamental thing that God has said.  This Scripture will hold you to account today.  You know what God has said.  You know the strength with which he has said it.  How ashamed would you be on the last day if, in spite of this you, did not believe it?  You cannot say, “Nobody ever told me this.  If they had, I would have lived differently.”

2. Submit

If you believe that one day, every knee will bow, the obvious thing for you to do is to take the initiative and bow today.

You don’t want to spend eternity with the incensed and the ashamed, submitting to Christ as a defeated rebel.  You want to spend eternity with the justified and the joyful, submitting to Christ as a willing servant.  You must bow your knee before Jesus Christ today!  You must confess that he is Lord, Lord of your life and Lord of all things.

You must lay down your arms in this fight against God.  Give up your rebellion.  Submit your life to the One who made you and can save you.  Believe in him and in his Son, Jesus Christ.

God offers grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace to all who will turn to him in faith and repentance: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:22).

If you hope to be among the people who bow the knee in willing service in heaven, turn to him in faith and repentance and identify yourself with the people who worship God and serve him on earth!

3. Rejoice

Every knee should bow… and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!  (Philippians 2:10)

We live at a time when God is increasingly pushed to the margins.  In our culture, more and more people believe that science tells us all that we need to know about the world, and psychology tells us all that we need to know about human behavior, and the Bible is simply men’s thoughts about God that change with the times.

It is easy for people who believe God and submit themselves to him to get discouraged.  But friends, I want you to hear this word today: Every knee shall bow!  Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  God has given his Word!  He has sworn it by himself!

Believing what God says to us today, let’s give ourselves all the more to him.  In Christ, God’s people will be justified, and they will be full of joy.  So, let’s worship him and serve him gladly, at all times and in all circumstances, as we anticipate the day when every knee will bow.


[1] William Earnest Henley, from the poem Invictus, 1888.


© Colin S. Smith

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