The pattern of the Savior’s ministry
With that concrete basis in place, the phrase expands its range of meaning and is applied to the Messiah. For instance, in Isaiah 53, that classic passage predicting the Suffering Servant, the Lord says through the prophet, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” (Is 53.12).
Jesus himself picks up on this language, interpreting His imminent death and instituting His sacred meal using that same language: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26.28).
And once more, in Philippians 2, though the phrase itself is not used a similar concept emerges:
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 emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5-7)
Christ Jesus “empties himself,” is poured out for the sake of others, like so much sacrificial blood spilled on the ground. This is the pattern of the Savior’s ministry. This is the character of God’s kingdom. And this is the revelation of the Father’s heart.
Ministry that mimics Jesus
Now, what especially grabs me about this phrase “poured out” is the way that it then resonates through the life of God’s people. This same pattern of self-giving that marks the ministry of Christ also marks the ministry of His Body, the Church.
So, for example, Paul—fast on the heels of that marvelous passage about Jesus’ humility, cited above—declares to the Philippians, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil 2.17). Paul’s ministry now mimics that of Jesus as he expends himself for the benefit of others.
So also for God’s people as a whole. God’s love has been “poured out into our hearts” through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5.5). St. John, reflecting on the nature of that self-giving love, writes, “He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 Jn 3.16).
And if we go back to the Old Testament, the same message holds true. “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,” says Isaiah, “then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Is 58.12). Light pours forth as God's people are poured out.
A People Poured Out
"A Gospel movement is marked by self-sacrifice," writes Michael Newman, president of the Texas District of the LCMS (and a past dean at Camp Arcadia). "It is saturated with love—Jesus' love."
Sacrifice suffuses our faith. Christ Jesus poured himself out for our sake; on the basis of His self-giving love we thus offer our own lives as “living sacrifices.” And when we as Christians pour ourselves out for the sake of others, people get a glimpse of God's gracious kingdom at work and a picture of His heart for the world.