In the weeks ahead we are going to hear a great deal about Jesus. There will be the scores of Christmas specials in which Christmas carols tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Christmas cards with pictures of a manger, or shepherds, or the three kings will allude to the story of Jesus’ coming into the world. But as the story is told and re-told there is a problem. Many people may know the general details of the Christmas story but they don’t really understand why this particular birth in Bethlehem was so important. They have facts but the facts seem to have no meaning.
With this in mind, for the next four weeks we are going to look at a simple question: “Who is this Jesus?” We will look at
- His nature and unique claims to deity
- His incredible fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy
- His surprising birth to a Virgin
- The purpose of His Coming
- and on Christmas Eve Day we will look at the one question that remains.
Our current study of Philippians becomes a nice “bridge” for us. In Philippians 2 Paul admonishes the Philippians to develop a servant-mentality. As an example of this mentality, Paul points us to the example of Jesus. And in his description of Christ’s servanthood we have one of the most powerful pictures of Christ that we have in Scripture. In this passage we find answers to the question: Who is this Jesus?
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!
Therefore God 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. (Philippians 2:5-11)
This passage tells us who Jesus really was and why we should celebrate Christmas.
JESUS IS FULLY GOD
The first affirmation is bold and powerful: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,” The King James Version translates this: Jesus was in “the form of God”. Some cults deny the deity (or goodness) of Christ and tell us that “being in the form of God” means He reflected God. He reflected God in the way that many of us reflect God. However, this is not what the Greek text says.
William Barclay, who was not a conservative scholar tells us about the Greek words involved.
The word which the King James Version translates “being” is from the Greek verb [huparchein] which is not the common Greek word for “being.” This word describes that which a man is in his very essence and which cannot be changed. It describes that part of a man which, in any circumstances, remains the same. So Paul begins by saying that Jesus was essentially and unalterably God.
He goes on to say that Jesus was in the form (or in the very nature) of God. There are two Greek words for form, “morphe” and “schema” They must both be translated form, because there is no other English equivalent, but they do not mean the same thing. Morphe is the essential form which never alters; schema is the outward form which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance. For instance, the morphe of any human being is humanity and this never changes; but his schema is continually changing. A baby, a child, a boy, a youth, a man of middle age, an old man always have the morphe of humanity, but the outward schema changes all the time.
The morphe never alters; the schema continually does. The word Paul uses for Jesus being in the form of God is morphe, that is to say, his unchangeable being is divine. However his outward schema might alter, he remained in essence divine. [Daily Study Bible – Philippians]
Paul is very careful in choosing his words. He knows what he is saying. He is proclaiming that Jesus was fully God. Admittedly, it is an astounding claim. Islam, the Church of Later Day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (among others) consider such a claim to be blasphemy. They believe Jesus was a good man. They still call him a Savior . . . but they mean something different than we do.
Listen to a few other passages and see what you think,
in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. [Heb. 1:1-3]
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The Bible not only makes direct claims about the nature of Christ, there are indirect claims.
- Divine names are ascribed to Him (Alpha and Omega in Rev. 1:11; Holy One in Acts 3:14; Thomas call Him God in John 20:28; . Paul says he is the “Great God and Savior” in Titus 2:13)
- Divine attributes were recognized in Jesus (all knowing Matt. 11:27; everywhere present- Matt. 18:20; eternality- John 1:1; unchanging (immutability)- Hebrews 13:8; pre-existence in Col. 1:17.)
- Divine authority was claimed by Jesus: He claimed power for forgive sins, to raise the dead (Jn. 6:39-44) to dispense judgment (John 5:22-23); and to bestow eternal life (John 10:28)
Jesus made some direct claims
- “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58)
- “I and the Father are One” (Jn. 8:16)
- “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)
The idea that Jesus is God stems from the Christian doctrine known as the Trinity. I would encourage you to review our study of the Trinity in the Attributes of God series. The Trinity states that there is one God who exists in three persons. There are not three Gods . . . only one but this One God exists in three distinct persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. C.S. Lewis acknowledged that this is difficult to grasp and used the analogy of living in one dimension versus living in three dimensions. In one dimension it is impossible for several squares to be one. However, in three dimensions six separate squares combine to form one cube. Lewis contends we are living in a one dimensional spiritual existence . . . God lives in a “three dimensional” existence. The Trinity is how we explain how God can become man (as the Son). . . but still be ruling in Heaven (as the Father).
You may or may not believe the Biblical testimony . . . but you must not deny that the Bible declares Jesus to be God. C.S. Lewis points out that either Jesus is who He said He is, or He is a deceiver and we should have nothing to do with Him, or, He is a crazy man who thought He was God, and we should have nothing to do with Him. There is no room for a middle position. It is impossible to credibly view Jesus as simply a “good teacher”. He is the One who deserves complete allegiance or we should ignore Him all together.
JESUS WAS FULLY MAN
It is one thing to believe that Jesus was fully God. It is another to believe He was fully man. It seems impossible to believe both at the same time. But this is what the Bible affirms. He was fully God and fully man. The New Living Translation has a very clear translation: “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.”
Jesus was and is God . . . He had every right to the privileges and honor due Him as God, but He did not cling to those rights. Instead, He relinquished them in order to become a man. He chose to leave the splendor of Heaven to live in the limitations of earth. He chose to submit to the limits of human understanding rather than tap into the clarity of divine perspective. He chose to endure the limitations of the physical frame rather than bask in the freedom of the Spirit. He subjected Himself to the requirements of sleep, aching muscles, hunger, frustration, temptation, and time. He who could have spoken a word and had it take place now had to walk miles before He could address the needs that were there.
In the Bible we read that Jesus faced limits to His knowledge and to His physical endurance (he had to sleep, eat etc.). He faced temptation; He had to pray, He felt emotions . . . He shed tears and we are sure there were times when He laughed. I’m sure Jesus even resembled His earthly mother in some ways . . . just like every other human. Jesus was still God but He didn’t “tap into” His goodness while He was on earth. He voluntarily put aside those attributes.
Jesus was not pretending to be human . . . He was human. Our Lord refused to hold on to the His rights. Instead He faced the same kind of pressure, temptation and struggles that we have.
HE BECAME OBEDIENT TO DEATH
He humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Jesus came to earth with a mission. He came to reach out to us. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The Bible is clear . . .you and I have failed in our efforts to be Holy. We are sinful and as such cannot be acceptable to God. The Bible makes it clear that sin is a capital offense. The sentence is death. Those who sin are to be removed from God’s presence forever.
In the Old Testament God provided animal sacrifices as a way of paying the penalty for sin temporarily. It was a picture of what penalty sin required. But the charge was still “on the books”. The animal sacrifices did not pay for sin . . .it just gained us a reprieve. An animal does not pay for a human sin.
Jesus came as that payment. He became our substitute and traded places with us. His goodness was applied to our account and our sin was applied to His account. When He died, He faced God’s wrath for us. How can one man pay for millions? It’s not hard. Just as an animal was an underpayment for the sin of human beings . . . . so the life of the Son of God was a vast overpayment for the life of a human being. His sacrifice was sufficient for any who will believe.
It is an illustration that stated in many different ways, but it is still excellent. The story is told of a husband and father who had no relationship with Christ. He wasn’t a bad man. He simply did not believe. It was Christmas Eve and the family was heading to church . . . everyone that is, except dad. Everyone invited and encouraged him to come with them, but he thought the whole thing rather silly. His statement was simple, “Look, the whole concept of God becoming man, is one that I don’t understand.” The family went to church and dad stayed home.
It was not a very nice night. The wind made it bitterly cold and the snow was coming down in those big flakes. The man settled in to watch television. Suddenly, he heard a “thump, thump,” against the picture window in the living room. He looked to see what was making the noise and he noticed a group of birds who kept flying into the window. It was obvious that the birds were cold and the light in the window signaled a place of warmth and protection. The man’s heart went out to the birds. It was obvious that they would not survive if they could not find shelter.
The man went out to the barn behind the house. He opened the big door and turned on a light hoping the birds would fly into the barn and find shelter. But they didn’t see the light in the storm and continued to smash against the window. The man went over to where the birds were and tried to “shoo” them into the barn. But this only frightened the birds and made them more desperate. The man was frustrated.
He came up with another idea. He got out some bread and made a trail that led to the barn. But it was to no avail. No sooner did the bread hit the ground and it was covered by the snow. The man tried yelling, he tried whistling, he tried leaving the barn open and just going in the house hoping they would find the place of safety on their own. But nothing worked.
In his frustration the man said, “O, how can I help these birds? If only I could become a bird . . . just for a little while, I could lead them to the barn and save their lives. If I could be a bird they would not be afraid of me and I could help them.” Just then, the man heard the bells ring at the church to signal the beginning of the Christmas service. And then he understood. He understood why God became a man. He did it in order to lead frightened and confused humanity to salvation and life. The man fell to his knees and wept. He understood. God came to do what man could not do for Himself. He got into the truck and traveled to the church to worship the Savior who came to save him.
This is a passage rich with meaning and deep in theology. But if it serves as only a theological text, we have missed the point. Let me conclude with three lessons we should learn.
First, we must keep in mind the context of this particular passage. Paul tells us all these things in this chapter of Philippians pointing to Jesus as the pattern for the way we are to live our lives. Paul says, “If you want to know what it means to live as a servant . . . look at Jesus.” And from Christ’s example we can conclude several things.
- Being a servant means making responsible use of the privileges we have been given.A reporter was interviewing a successful job counselor who had placed hundreds of workers in their vocations quite happily. When asked the secret of his success, the man replied: “If you want to find out what a worker is really like, don’t give him responsibilities—give him privileges. Most people can handle responsibilities if you pay them enough, but it takes a real leader to handle privileges. A leader will use his privileges to help others and build the organization; a lesser man will use privileges to promote himself.” Jesus used His heavenly privileges for the sake of others—for our sake. [Wiersbe BE JOYFUL (Wheaton: Victor Books 1974)p. 53]What are you doing with the privileges you have been given? Maybe you can serve someone this Christmas by giving from your abundance. Maybe you can give support to someone who is hurting. Maybe you can invite someone who is lonely to join you for a holiday get-together. Maybe you can give time to help out in a shelter, or buy some gifts for those who are needy.
- Being a servant means being willing to give up our personal rights and opportunities in order to benefit another. Jesus did not selfishly cling to the rights and honor that were rightfully His. R.C. Sproul writes,We must not forget that Jesus was, in human form, the Creator of the world. At any moment in His ministry He could have extinguished the life of those who opposed Him. The world was made by Him, in Him, and for Him. He had the power and authority to alter that creation by eliminating some undesirable rascals. But He chose to humble Himself before those very rascals. He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried, scourged, mocked, and crucified by men whom He could have annihilated with a single glance. That is humility. Acting with less power than one has at his disposal when attacked by another displays an astonishing level of grace. This is Jesus who is our Lord. It is precisely His mindset that Paul called us to imitate. [Sproul ONE HOLY PASSION p. 90]Maybe this is the time that you need to give up your right to revenge and instead extend forgiveness to someone who hurt you. Maybe this is the time you give up your right to fight back and instead seek to build a bridge. Maybe this is the time you give up your right to “do your own thing” and instead do something for someone else. Maybe it is time for you to give up your right to say whatever you think and instead check out the facts and give the benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t miss the last verses of the passage. Jesus the servant gave of Himself freely and completely and in the end God exalted Him and raised Him to the position of exalted Lord. The way down is up. the way to be exalted is to serve. The way to know joy is to give of ourselves.
Second, this passage is critical to understanding the Christian faith. It is not enough to “have faith”. What matters is the object of our faith. It is not enough to think well of Jesus. It’s not enough to proclaim Him a man worth following. Jesus was more than this. He was God.
When we call Jesus “Lord” we are not merely saying that He is a good role model. We are not declaring Him to be the leader of our club. We are not merely acknowledging Him as a phenomenal and wise teacher. When we call Him “Lord” we are acknowledging His right over our lives. We are bowing before Him as the ruler of the Universe and the one who holds the keys to life and death. We are acknowledging that His wisdom is superior to ours. He is not merely our favorite teacher . . . He is our Lord and God.
Finally, this passage deepens the wonder and the celebration of Christmas. Listen to Max Lucado,
Want to know the coolest thing about his coming? Not that the One who played marbles with the stars gave it up to play marbles with marbles. Or that the One who hung the galaxies gave it up to hang doorjambs to the displeasure of a cranky client who wanted everything yesterday but couldn’t pay for anything until tomorrow.
Not that he, in an instant, went from needing nothing to needing air, food, a tub of hot water and salts for his tired feet, and, more than anything, needing somebody–anybody–who was more concerned about where he would spend eternity than where he would spend Friday’s paycheck.
Not that he kept his cool while the dozen best friends he ever had felt the heat and got out of the kitchen. Or that he gave no command to the angels who begged, “Just give the nod, Lord. One word and these demons will be deviled eggs.”
Not that he refused to defend himself when blamed for every slut and sailor since Adam. Or that he stood silent as a million guilty verdicts echoed in the tribunal of heaven and the giver of light was left in the chill of a sinner’s night.
Not even that after three days in a dark hole he stepped into the Easter sunrise with a smile and a swagger and a question for lowly Lucifer–“Is that your best punch?”
That was cool, incredibly cool.
But want to know the coolest thing about the One who gave up the crown of heaven for a crown of thorns?
He did it for you. Just for you. [Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails p 26-27]
There are people all over the world who feel very much alone at Christmas. They feel forgotten, overlooked, and lost. There are those who have never gotten a kind word from anyone they ever cared about. It is tempting for them to conclude that they don’t matter. But if you understand the true story of Christmas, you understand that you matter greatly to God. God cared so much for you . . . that He took human form to reach out to you and to save you from destruction.
There are people who feel that they have ignored God for so long, they have done so many things that God disapproves of, there is so much water under the bridge that any real hope for a relationship with God is foolish. The story of Christmas however points out to what great lengths God will go to reach those He loves. Jesus died for the very things that haunt our lives. He went to the cross to take care of the foolishness of our past. He became a man so we would understand that His arms were open to us.
Christmas is an invitation. It is an invitation from God to come home. It is God’s declaration of unfathomable love. He’s done everything. All that is left is for you to receive the gift. It’s up to you to turn and run to His embrace. It is up to you to say, “Yes, I will place my life and my confidence for eternity in the hands of the Lord Jesus.” Have you ever done this? If not, I encourage you to do so now. Trust the one who died for you. Trust Him to get you to Heaven. Trust Him to forgive you as He promised. Trust Him for your daily life. Follow His directions. Trust Him in the hard times and the good. And when you dare to trust Him, you will not only find Him fully trustworthy . . . . you will also discover the real reason to celebrate Christmas.