I’m praying that this morning, for all of us, would not only be a nice Christmas Eve worship experience of sorts, but that our hearts and minds are truly stimulated and provoked to worship by one of the most profound and crucial truths of the Christian faith.
Central to our faith as Christians is our belief that God became a man. This is so central to our faith and our understanding of who God is, because without God becoming a man, we would have no hope! You see, Jesus was not just the happenstance way that God decided to do things. It wasn’t a, “Well, I guess one part of the Trinity can go to the earth, you know, maybe show how life’s supposed to be lived. No no no. It wasn’t just a coincidental decision on God’s part. He had a very specific reason to send Jesus to the earth, and that is exactly why the incarnation is so crucial in our faith—God dwelling in the flesh.
The text we’re reading and focusing in on today is probably the most central passage on the incarnation. So, Joe Cerra, one of our elders here at Raintree, is going to come and read for us, Philippians 2:5-11. If you want to use the blue New Testaments in the seatback in front of you, we’ll be reading on page 100. Philippians 2:5-11. Joe, take it away.
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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, 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, 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.
Thank you, Joe. As a reminder, we will be taking questions near the end of our time, so if you’re not on our texting service, you can open the bulletin, and on the bottom right there are instructions on how to be added to our texting communication. So a text will go out around 11:10, and if you respond to that text with a question (which is anonymous except for me), I’ll try and answer it near the end of our time together.
My goal for this morning is not just that we’re reminded about the birth of Jesus, or maybe we learn an extra little fact or two about how he came to the earth. My goal, and my prayer this morning, is that we are absolutely captivated like never before by God in the flesh, God himself dwelling among us. In fact, so you know how this will be organized, we’ll see from these verses four “Riveting Reminders” about God in the flesh. So, I hope you’ll hang with us and open your Bible or one of the blue ones as we dig into God’s Word, and try and hear directly from him. So, let’s jump in.
This first verse, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This is referring back to the text before. If you remember two weeks ago, we looked at verses 1-4. In those verses, Paul was telling us, “Hey, since you have unity with Christ and love from God, since you have this great gift of God’s love, the Gospel, then let that be your fuel for serving others! Considering other more important than yourselves. Let that gospel compel you to love and serve others! So, verse 5 is kind of pointing back, saying, have that mindset, which is yours in Christ Jesus, or “the same mindset as that of Christ.” We’re also to have this kind of mindset, this kind of thinking that puts others first.
And in the next few verses, it’s almost as if Paul is saying, “And in case you’re wondering just how much Jesus had this goal of serving others even over himself; In case you’re questioning that at all, let me tell you what he did.” This is the most remarkable thing about the Gospel, the most remarkable reason the church exists at all, because, verse 6, (this is so good), “Jesus, who was in the form of God,” meaning the exact nature and qualities of God himself—even though he was the God of the universe, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” but, what did he do instead? Verse 7: He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Now there’s two things that I want us to be very clear on with these first few verses, and these are the first two things listed in your notes:
- Jesus has always been God. We see that right there in verse 6: “though he was in the form of God.” In other words, when Jesus was born as a man, that was not the first time he ever came into existence. He’s always been around, and he’s always been God. I realize that most of us probably totally agree with that, maybe even fully understand that, but we can’t skip it over! We see it throughout the Scriptures.
John 1:1- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now, that sounds all fine and dandy, but how do we know that John is referring here to Jesus when he writes of “the Word?” Well, a few verses later, John 1:14- “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This Word, Jesus, was with God in the beginning, and was God from the beginning. For some of you that may just be a given, but still something to be amazed at: Jesus has always been God. The 2nd “ “Riveting Reminder” from these first few verses:
- In taking on flesh, Jesus continued to be fully God. It’s very easy to misunderstand what is being said here in verses 6 and 7, when Paul writes that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…” It’s very easy to think that means somehow Jesus gave up some of his divinity. In other words, he wasn’t actually fully God while he was a man. But, this doesn’t jive with the rest of Scripture.
We know from Colossians 2:9, that “In him the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” That’s speaking specifically of Jesus, the man. We also know from Hebrews 13:8, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” His nature does not change. Another great one is Hebrews 1:3- “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” The word for representation there means “the exact imprint.” So according to what we see in Scripture, Jesus has always been fully God, and even when he dwelt on the earth, we was fully God.
Now look, we’re not going over this just so we can clear up a few things, and make sure we’re all on the right track intellectually. Just so we all have correct knowledge. We’re going over this because of the goal I already mentioned to you: Our goal this morning is to be absolutely captivated like never before by God in the flesh, God himself dwelling among us. So, let’s think about the implications of this. Jesus has been absolutely, fully God for every second of all eternity.
That means, when he was conceived in Mary’s womb, he was fully God. As a tiny, unborn baby, physically dependent upon his mother in every way, he was holding the entire universe in his hands. Just think about that for a second! As her body is feeding and nurturing him inside her, at the same time, he’s the one keeping her heart beating, giving her the very air that she’s breathing. As a newborn baby being breastfed, at the same time, he’s controlling the seasons. That’s baffling, isn’t it? There’s a great poem by Edward Caswall, written during the mid-1800’s; I won’t read the whole thing, but here’s part of it:
Hail, thou ever blessed morn,
Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies;
He who, throned in height sublime,
Sits among the cherubim.
From conception to death, Jesus was fully God. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. The beauty of this is not only that it’s just awesome and even bewildering, but also that this is the reason we stand on Him as our Rock. He does not change. Our hope is secure precisely because Christ our Savior is secure. He IS our Hope, and because of that He is our JOY. Even in taking on flesh, Jesus continued to be fully God. But, also true is this 3rd Riveting Reminder:
- In taking on flesh, Jesus became like us in every way. This is where it gets even little bit more amazing, and perhaps difficult to understand, and yet this is also where we come to find out that we are unable to fully understand who God is, at least in this life. So, we know from what we just talked about that Jesus did not give up any bit of his divinity when he was born as a man. So, the question is: what does Paul then mean when he says that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but instead emptied himself?” What does that mean if not that he gave up some of his divinity, or God-hood?
Here’s the best way to understand this: Paul is saying that though Christ had every privilege that the king of the universe would have, every right to do whatever he pleased to do, because he’s God, even though he had every right and privilege as God to do whatever he pleased, he chose not to take advantage of these rights and privileges for his own sake, but instead became an ordinary man whose destiny was the cross. He chose not to employ his God-hood in such a way that would benefit him only. Instead, he served by becoming a man.
You see, the word for “grasped” there in verse 6—“he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped”—that word means “plundered,” or taken as a “prize.” Instead of plundering his deity merely for his own sake and his own benefit, he emptied himself and took the form of a servant, was born as a man.
This is when we get back to Christ being the perfect example of what it means to put others before yourself, to consider others as more important than yourself. Christ, of all people, became a servant, became a man for our sake. Certainly not because he was bored or didn’t have anything better to do (If you’re the God of the universe, I don’t think that’s what you’d do if you were bored! I mean, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible for God to be bored because of the perfect happiness and joy of the Trinity, but that’s another story). He didn’t do it just because it was random idea that popped into his head. He became a man and a servant for our sake.
Jesus became like us in every way, except of course that he never sinned or rebelled against God. But he was fully human. He cried when he was a baby, despite what the song says:
Away in a manger
No crib for His bed.
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the Hay (good so far)
The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes…
What?! No crying he makes? I’m sorry, but if a cow wakes up your newborn baby, if that baby is fully human, he is going to cry! Especially if it’s nearby! He’d probably be screaming: “Ahhh! What is this big thing making noises at me!?” But that doesn’t fit the sentiment of the song as well: “The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes, and little Lord Jesus awful shrieking he makes.” Doesn’t work as well.
Now, look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t sing that song because it says that; it’s still a beautiful song that is quite worshipful. But it is funny how we have this tendency to either minimize the deity of Jesus, or to minimize the humanity of Jesus! I’m sorry to say this, but I think it’s applicable here: Jesus had boogers, dirty diapers, B.O. I’m not trying to be irreverent here; I’m trying to make sure we recognize that Jesus was fully human. Why? Because if he was not fully human, we have NO HOPE, in the same way that if Jesus was not fully God, we have no hope!
The writer of Hebrews makes this explicit in Hebrews 2:17- “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Did you catch that?!
You see, if Jesus was not fully God he never could have been a perfect covenant keeper, a spotless lamb that deserved no death of his own. AND, if Jesus was not fully man, he would not have been able to be our permanent Substitute on the Cross, having lived our life, and yet remained holy and without blemish, and therefore being able to atone for our sins. This is why the incarnation is so infinitely important! Without it, we have no hope.
Now I know 100% man and 100% God is confusing for us. Because if you do the math, that’s 200%, and yet Jesus was one person. It’s like when we say, “I’m going to give 110% effort!” That’s an expression, right? It’s not actually possible. So I know 100% and 100% God is difficult, but don’t let this difficulty frustrate you. Allow it to be part of the reason we reach our goal today. What did I say was our goal for today? To be absolutely captivated like never before by God in the flesh, God himself dwelling among us.
This should just enamour us! Delight us! It’s both beautiful and confounding! We have a Savior who is perfect and can never fail us. AND we have a Savior who has lived on this very earth like us! And ultimately, this Savior loved us enough to become our Substitute, which brings us to this fourth and last Riveting Reminder:
- Jesus was born a man to die as a sacrifice. I’m amazed at how quickly we forget this. This was the very reason he came. When I was in high school, I remember my church made up this bumper sticker that said, “Jesus had to die; please ask me why.” It was pretty cheesy; there’s nothing wrong with Christian stickers and things like that (in fact, I’ve had plenty of them on my own vehicles), but I’ve just never heard someone share their testimony and say they got saved after seeing a bumper sticker. But, God can use what he wants to use, of course.
Anyway, the reason I bring up this bumper sticker is because of this first line: Jesus came to die! That was his purpose in coming! Verse 8: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This was the most ultimate way that Jesus could have been humbled, and it’s why he came to the earth. There really wasn’t a more gruesome and humiliating way for anyone to die. Crucifixion was the Roman way of declaring that a person was beyond contempt, just worthless. That’s the death that Jesus died. He was obedient to God his entire life, even to the point of this gruesome and humiliating death.
Sean McDonough puts it like this: “It was the ultimate counterpoint to the divine majesty of the pre-existent Christ and thus was the ultimate expression of Christ’s obedience to the Father.” You have Jesus who is God forever, now taking the form of a servant who dies a most humiliating death. This is why he came. And his death and his subsequent resurrection is our hope.
The summary of this text today might best be stated like this: Christ was born to bring God to man. Christ died to bring man to God. 1 Peter 3:18- “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Christ was born to bring God to man. Christ died to bring man to God.
Should we not marvel at that? Should we not be captivated more than ever before that God became flesh to die our death. Jared Wilson puts it in Christmas terms like this: “This Christmas, let’s marvel that the incarnation presents to us the fullness of God in the fullness of man, because it proclaims to us the great big gospel of the fullness of God for the fullness of man.” In other words, God’s desire for us to be saved and experience life as a child of God, the most full life we can possibly have.
This is Jesus our JOY. Living the fullness of humanity means living as God made us to be! He made us to be holy, but there is no way for us to be holy outside of Christ. When we trust in Jesus, our sin is placed upon him, and his righteousness, his holiness is placed upon us. Now we are free to live as God’s adopted children. There’s no true lasting satisfaction out there outside of Christ. That’s all there is to it.
If you’ve trusted in Jesus, you’ve turned from being your own King to the true King, our Substitute, don’t ever forget: we’re not reconciled to God because we’re good people. I’ll be the first to say I am not good in and of myself. We’re reconciled to God only because of the God-man Jesus. His life, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation. He is our hope. He is our Joy.
For some of you, these are riveting reminders. For others of you, this may be the very first moment this has ever clicked for you. Not just that it makes sense logically, but that it is overwhelmingly weighty what God has done to bring us to Himself. If you’ve never done so, Christ is calling: turn from yourself, and turn to Jesus, our only Hope, our only true Joy.
The Christmas the Delivered
When I was a senior in college, I got stuck in the great North Texas Blizzard of 2011. And it really was a bad snow. I think it was 11 inches in only a few hours. But I was on my way home for Christmas break, and the snow got so bad, I ran off the road. Fortunately, there was a hotel right there, and so I went in, and I ended up spending 4 or 5 nights there before I could get out. The highway shut down and everything for multiple days, because in Texas there aren’t too many snow plows.
There were hundreds of people stuck in the hotel, all the rooms were booked, and even every space between doors in the hallway was taken up by people sleeping. I mean, we were stuck. We had food and everything, so we were fine. But I missed Christmas with my family, and ended up getting there right after Christmas.
But I remember Christmas morning in this hotel very well. I was a music major and had my trumpet with me, so I went around playing Christmas tunes. It was a lot of fun, and it was kind-of dorky too. I you think I’m a bit dorky now, you should’ve seen me dancing around at 22 years of age.
But I remember that day looking around and wondering how many of us sometimes expect Christmas to deliver something that it just can’t deliver. We have this time where many people are extra happy, and extra excited to see family, and excited to have time off (certainly not everyone gets hyperly-excited at Christmas, but many do including myself). But do we expect too much from this holiday and all the cultural adjustments made to it, outside of what only Jesus can provide? Outside of what the holiday is truly to commemorate?
Christmas didn’t deliver for me in 2011. I missed most of my family time. I slept in a drafty hallway four or five nights in a row. And yet, as a child of God, I don’t find my hope in a holiday season. I don’t expect Christmas to deliver something new every year. Because I look back to a Christmas that did deliver, Jesus’ actual birth, when God himself put on flesh, to die on my behalf. That’s not merely enough for joy on Christmas Eve. It’s not merely sufficient. It’s excessive. It’s lavish. It’s overflowing. Jesus Our JOY, who was born to bring God to man, and who died to bring man to God.