Skip to main content

Philippians


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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Mentoring

The first of four posts by yours truly is now up on the Next Leadership Blog. Check it out by clicking here: Mentoring.

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.


Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....


Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....


C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity


Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday (http://wesroberts.typepad.com/) got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…