Surrender is not a popular word, is it? Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Palm Sunday is all about surrender. Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse. Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it.
There are three common barriers to our surrender to God: They are: fear, pride and independence. They are addressed in our Epistle reading from Philippians 2.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”(Philippians 2:1-2)
Trust is essential to surrender. We won’t surrender to to someone unless we trust them, but we wont trust someone until we know them well enough. Fear keeps us from surrender, but love casts out all fear. The more we discover how much God loves us, the easier surrender becomes.
How do we know God loves us? He gives you many evidences: In Psalm 103, the Lord says,
“As a father has compassion on his children, so is the Lord compassionate on those who fear him…from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,” (Psalm 103: 13, 17)
The greatest expression of his love was the sacrifice of Jesus.
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)
If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Jesus Christ with his arms outstretched on the cross. God is not a cruel slave driver or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn’t try to break our will, but break our heart so that we might respond freely to him. God is a lover and a liberator, and surrendering to him brings freedom, not bondage. The first barrier is fear. Perfect love casts out fear. The second barrier is pride.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:3-5)
Notice that word ‘same’ – the same as Jesus? Surrendering to God is not passive resignation, it is not fatalism. It is not accepting the status quo. It may mean the exact opposite. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats. Likewise, it does not mean giving up rational thinking. God would not waste the mind he gave you! God does not want robots to serve him. Surrendering is not repressing your personality either. God wants to use your unique personality. C. S. Lewis observed,
“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because he made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
To surrender is to obey in love. Surrender says “yes, Lord” to whatever he asks. To say “no, Lord” is a contradiction. You can say “no” or “Lord” but not in the same sentence. We can’t call Jesus our Lord and refuse to obey him. After a night of fishing, Peter modeled surrender when Jesus told him to try again:
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
Surrendered people obey God’s, even when it doesn’t appear to make sense. Abraham followed God’s leading without knowing where. Moses waited for God’s perfect timing without knowing when. Mary expected a miracle without knowing how. Joseph trusted God’s purpose without knowing why. The Bible says, “Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7). You know you’re surrendered when you don’t react to criticism, or rush to defend yourself. Surrendered hearts show up best in relationships. You don’t edge others out, you don’t demand your rights. The supreme example?
“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.” (Philippians 2:6-7).
The night before his crucifixion Jesus surrendered again.
He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Jesus didn’t pray, “Father, if you’re able to take away this pain, please do.” Instead, he prayed, “Father, if my suffering fulfills your purposes, that’s what I want, too.” Jesus agonized so much over God’s purposes that he sweat drops of blood. Surrender is not for wimps. The first barrier is fear. The second barrier is pride.
“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.”(Philippians 2:10-11)
A third barrier to surrender is independence. We don’t want to give up being in charge. It is the oldest temptation: “You’ll be like God!”” Satan promised Adam and Eve. That desire to be in control – is the cause of so much stress. The power struggle in the South China Sea today is merely a graphic example of the wider struggle between the creator and his creation. Life is a struggle, but what many people don’t realize is that our struggle, like Jacob’s, is really a struggle with God! We want to be God, and there’s no way we are going to win that struggle.
Ironically, when we try to be God we end up like Satan, who desired the same thing. When faced with our own limitations, we react with irritation, with anger, and resentment.
We want to be taller (or shorter), younger, fitter, smarter, stronger, more talented, more beautiful, and of course wealthier. We want to have it all, and do it all, and we get upset when we can’t, when others stand in our way, or it doesn’t work out the way we planned. And when we notice that God has given others talents we don’t have, we get envious or jealous, and bitter. If fear, pride and independence are barriers to surrender, what are the incentives to surrender?
Conclusions: The Blessing of Surrender
Every one of us eventually surrenders to something or someone. If not to God, we will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to fear, or bitterness.
We were designed to worship God – and if we won’t we will find a substitute to worship. We are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of that choice. Surrender to God is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live. Nothing else works. But its not a one-time event. Paul said, “I die daily.” There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is lifelong. The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, so we have to re-surrender perhaps many times a day. It should be a daily habit. One day everyone will surrender to Jesus. For now, we may do so willingly, freely, out of love not fear. What better day than Palm Sunday to surrender to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
- Why do we find surrender or submission so difficult?
- What do these verses tell us about Jesus Christ? (Philippians 2:1-11)
- In what way does Philippians 2 speak into the theme of Palm Sunday?
- How is our relationship with Jesus described?
- How is that relationship intended to affect our relationships with one another?
- How is humility defined? (Philippians 2:1-4).
- How are we to imitate Jesus in becoming a servant? (Philippians 2:5-8)
- Why should submission be a natural response to Jesus? (Philippians 2:9-11)
- How are we to work out our salvation? (Philippians 2:12-13)
- What opportunities will you have for humble service during the coming week?
Donald Baker: Philippians, A Lifebuilder Bible Study (Scripture Union)
Don Carson: Basics for Believers (IVP)
Alec Motyer: The Message of Philippians (IVP)