If I had to pick one book of the Bible as my favorite, it would probably be Philippians. That is because there is so much joy in this letter—and we all need joy, don’t we? Here is a sermon I preached from Philippians on Christmas Eve a few years ago….
This evening, I want to ask what I believe are two of the most important questions in all of life. The first question I intend to answer from Scripture. The second question we must each answer for ourselves. The first question is simply this: Who is Jesus?
It is so easy to miss the fact that Christmas is really all about Jesus. It is easy to get caught up in the equivalent of the old circus act of plate spinning where every party, every concert, every gift to be bought, every dessert to be made becomes another plate we spin on top of a pole. We try to keep all the plates spinning at once. For some reason we are afraid to let them all drop, perhaps because we are afraid of the shattering quiet that will follow.
However, that is what I love about Christmas Eve. It is a time when all the plate spinning stops. When we can get quiet and realize, maybe for the first time, what the holiday is all about.
I want to read you a Scripture not often read at Christmas, let alone, on Christmas Eve. However, I believe it is a Scripture with great application to this holy night. Hear the Word of God from Philippians 2:5-11….
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul tells us four things here about Jesus. First, he tells us that Jesus is God. Literally, Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God.
There are two words in Greek that can be translated as form; both are used in this passage. The one that is used first is morphe. Morphe is the essential form that never changes. Schema is the other word that is used and it means the outward form of something that changes from time to time, from circumstance to circumstance. For example, the morphe of any human being is humanity and this never changes. However, our outward schema is continually changing.
In 2001, I was a human being. I am still a human being. However, ten years ago I weighed about thirty pounds more than I do now. My schema changed, but my morphe has remained the same.
The word Paul uses for Jesus being in the “form” of God or “nature” of God is morphe. That is to say, Jesus’ unchangeable being is divine.
The second thing Paul tells us is that Jesus did not cling to his privileges as God. What were some of those privileges? First, before the second person of the Trinity became incarnate, he had a favorable relationship to God’s law. No burden of guilt rested on him. However, when he took on our humanity, he took the burden of our guilt upon himself. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus also had the privilege of riches in heaven. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Jesus became so poor as a human being that he was constantly borrowing. He borrowed a place for his birth—and what a place! He borrowed a house to sleep in, a boat to preach from, a donkey to ride on, a room in which to share a last meal with his disciples, and finally—a tomb in which to be buried. Even more important than all of that, he took upon himself a debt—the greatest debt ever assumed by one person for another—the debt of our sin.
In heaven, Jesus also had the privilege of glory. He was so glorious in fact that the angels had to cover their faces in his presence (Isaiah 6:1-3). However, Jesus voluntarily descended to this earth, where he was “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)
Jesus also had the privilege of an independent exercise of authority. Think of it! He had authority over the whole universe, but he gave it up and “learned obedience by what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus did not cling to any of his privileges as divine, but rather gave them all up for us.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “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.”
The third thing Paul tells us about Jesus is that he emptied himself. Of what did he empty himself? Jesus did not empty himself of deity. He emptied himself of his privileges as God. How did he do that? He did it by taking the form of a servant. Furthermore, when Jesus became a servant he wasn’t playacting. Again, Paul uses the word morphe. In his inner nature, Jesus was and is a servant. As Ken Wuest once put it, “The only person in the world who had the right to assert his rights waived them.”
How did Jesus take the very nature of a servant? He did it by being made in human likeness. Think of it! The one who made the skies was born under the sky. The one who was larger than all became a tiny baby. Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes the one who wrapped the stars into galaxies. The hand of God that formed the first human being from the dust of the ground was now reaching out for his mother’s breast. Yes indeed, God emptied himself when he became human in Jesus of Nazareth.
John Henry Jowett once wrote, “Who would have had sufficient daring of imagination to conceive that God Almighty would have appeared among men as a little child? We should have conceived something sensational, phenomenal, catastrophic, appalling! The most awful of the natural elements would have formed His retinue, and men would be chilled and frozen with fear. But, he came as a little child. The great God ‘emptied Himself’; He let in the light as our eyes were able to bear it.”
The Son of God emptied himself for us, that we might become full. In fact, he humbled himself, to such an extent that he became obedient unto death—even the death of the cross.
Bruce Thielemann once wrote, “There was a time during the most horrible persecutions of the Jews by the Nazis in Poland that an old Jewish cemetery keeper came into the cemetery one morning and found that during the night a woman had crept into an open grave and there given birth to a son. And she had died. He found this child, and he said to himself and to others about, ‘This must be the Messiah, for only the Messiah could choose to be born in a grave.’”
Well, I doubt that baby was the Messiah. He died before noon that same day. However, there is a hint of truth in what the Jewish cemetery keeper said. Only the Messiah of God would choose to be born as a human being to die for our sin. Only a God who loves us would choose to come into the midst of all our pain and death in order to bring us forgiveness, hope and life.
The fourth thing that Paul tells us about Jesus is that because of the way he emptied himself the Father exalted him.
Because of what Jesus willingly suffered for our sin, the Father exalted him by raising him from the dead, causing him to ascend into heaven, to be crowned King of kings, and to be seated at his right hand.
What is the name that is above every name that was given to Jesus? It is the name—Lord. That name not only means that Jesus is master of all, it also suggests that he is God. The Greek name “kurios” is the name that was used in the Greek version of the Old Testament in place of the personal name for God—Yahweh, because the Jews thought God’s name was too holy to pronounce. Thus, when the early Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord, they were proclaiming him as God.
That is the confession that each one of us needs to make—Jesus is Lord. I believe there is nothing more important in life than making that confession.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote: “How easy it is to turn the New Testament into a philosophy or a set of rules and regulations and a scheme for life and living, a general outlook. No, the central point everywhere, the whole emphasis here, is that it is my personal relationship to him that matters. I do not accept the Christian philosophy primarily; I accept him. I believe on him, I bow my knee to him, the Person. I make a statement about the individual: Jesus Christ is Lord, he is my Lord; it is a personal relationship, and a personal confession. And that is the primary thing in the whole Christian position—our relationship to him. There is no true knowledge of God apart from him, and to know him is to know God. Jesus said, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9)—that is it. The centrality of Christ.”
The name of Jesus is so precious to the one who is a believer in him that his name should never be surrendered or covered over or dismissed.
A pastor’s daughter was asked to give the closing prayer at her high school graduation. A Jewish student was asked to give the opening prayer. The principal asked the pastor’s daughter if she would refrain from using the name of Jesus in her prayer so that no one of another faith might be offended. She replied that she would be glad to omit Jesus’ name from her closing prayer if the Jewish student would mention Jesus’ name in his opening prayer “so that I and those of my faith not be offended.”
She was allowed to give her prayer as originally planned.
Never surrender the name of Jesus! Living in a pluralistic society means that when we hear Jews pray in public we should expect and allow them to pray as Jews. Buddhists should pray Buddhist prayers. Muslims should pray Islamic prayers, and Christians, whether they pray in public or private, should always pray Christian prayers, which means—in the name of Jesus.
It is at that precious name—the name Jesus (which means Yahweh saves)—that every knee will one day bow in heaven, and on earth and under the earth. (That last part means even in hell knees will bow to Jesus.) Granted, not everyone recognized whom Jesus was when he walked on this planet. Not everyone recognizes him today. However, one day they will.
It reminds me of the story told by Roger Thompson about the Brinks Armored Car deliverymen. One day a couple of Brinks’ men got a call from the Bank of America in downtown San Bernardino, California. The bank was all in a panic. “We’ve got to have some coin in the hour.” Well, all the armored trucks were gone. Thus, Larry, the manager backed up his 1949 Ford pickup into the bay. They loaded $25,000 worth of coin in that 49 pickup.
That’s over a ton of coins! The truck bed was dragging! Then Larry and his helper, both dressed in blue jeans, no uniforms, hopped into the pickup and made their delivery to Bank of America.
When they got there Larry said, “Hang on, I’ll go in and get the dolly, and we’ll haul this stuff in.” So Larry’s companion was standing by the truck, whistling away, no gun, and thinking: “If anybody notices what is in this common looking pickup truck, I’m a dead duck!”
Just think of the treasure that was in that truck! People didn’t notice it because of the commonplace nature of the delivery system.
The same is true of Jesus. Many people in his day, and in ours, have not seen Jesus for who he really is because of the commonplace nature of the delivery system.
That leads me, at last, to ask my second and final question that you alone can answer: “What is your response to the most selfless person of Christmas—the Lord Jesus Christ?”
Have you bowed your knee to him and confessed him as your Lord? Do you know what it means to do that? It means giving as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of Jesus. It means beginning to live an upside-down sort of life.
It is like the movie The Poseidon Adventure. Do you remember that movie where the big ocean liner flips over? Because of the air trapped inside, it floats upside-down for a while. In the confusion, the passengers can’t figure out what is going on. They scramble to get out, but mostly by following the steps to the top deck. The problem is, the top deck is now one hundred feet under water. In trying to get to the top, they drown.
That’s what many people in this world are doing. They are trying to get to the top of the ladder of success in life, but in doing so, they are drowning.
Jesus showed us that the way to get to the top is to go to the bottom. That’s what a few wise people did in The Poseidon Adventure. They did what didn’t make sense; they climbed up into the dark belly of the ship until they reached the hull and then they started banging. From there, the rescuers heard them and cut them free.
The only way to find freedom in life is to do what doesn’t make sense. We must surrender to the leadership of Jesus Christ in our lives and follow the example of the most selfless person of Christmas—by emptying ourselves, serving others, sacrificing ourselves for others, even to the point of death. The way down is the way up.