Sermon, December 1, 2019 | Grace Reformed Church
You’ll notice today that we have a fairly brief text. As I said last week, we’re taking the time to dwell on the various pieces of the Christ Hymn over the next few weeks. We had a broad overview of the Christ hymn last week. To review briefly, before we get to the actual text of today, concerning Jesus as the “God man,” you’ll remember that last week we saw how great, overwhelming, an example of humility Christ was and is.
And we see that in the three parts of this text. First, by seeing what Christ was before the incarnation, which shows us what he had to give up in order to humble himself by being clothed in human flesh. The extent of that humility is so great it doesn’t even adequately fit in our brains, our limited minds. The next part of the Christ Hymn extends Christ’s humility even further, past just being clothed in humanity, he then spent a life of perfect obedience, a further humiliation for the eternal Son of God. And we saw how that obedience, as Paul reminded us, how that obedience went so far as to die the most humiliating death available in that culture, death on a cross. The third section of the Christ Hymn then gloriously relays to us what God’s response to this incredible humility was, and it was Christ’s glorification, him being seated on the throne and given the name above every name. And as it says at the end of verse 11, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. That is Christ’s reward for this great humility.
And remember that our application of that was not that Christ did all this for a reward, but he did this out of love for us, all of us sinful creatures. This is your king, and he deserves all the praise and glory that we can pour out toward him by how we live our lives.
So that was the broad overview, and now we’re going to get into some of the details. First, today, looking at a foundational tenet of the Christian faith, the deity of Christ. All of our faith, all of our hope rests on the fact that Christ is God. So, let’s turn to our passage today. Philippians 2:6, and we’ll back up and start in verse 5:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
The Word of the Lord.
I had said weeks ago that my original plan was to take a break from Philippians for Advent, but my what a blessing that these verses were before us at this time of the year. They convinced me that they together would make such perfect Advent messages as we would dwell on who Christ is. Sometimes we forget, all of us, what the season of Advent is. For a lot of people, in their minds it is a great four-week lead up to Christmas, and so we spend four weeks thinking about and dwelling on the incarnation. There is a sense that it is that, a time when we think about Christ coming, but that’s not actually the purpose of it. The Advent that we look forward to in this season is the coming of Christ that is yet to come, the second coming. The first coming, the incarnation is a wonderful and appropriate thing to celebrate, but the season of Advent is primarily meant to look forward. So in three parts this will work out extremely well for Advent – today looking at who Christ is and was before the incarnation, next week looking at the incarnation itself, and then on the Sunday before Christmas, looking at the glorification of Christ, and looking forward to what I yet to come, when every knee will bow before the King. But today, in our text, the reality of the Deity of Christ.
It’s right there, the deity of Christ, the fact that Christ is God. I noted last week, and I’ll say it again so that no one is ever confused, that when Paul says that Christ was “in the form of God,” the Greek word that he used there, morphe, implies not just that he was like God, or looked like God (which is what the word “form” might bring up in our minds). No, morphe implies a total likeness, to the level of essence. Christ was in essence, in substance, completely God. So we just want to keep that clear, there is no equivocation on that fact for Paul here.
And the fact that he says it so plainly is another brief point. Paul writes this in such a way that there is no question, and he assumes that his readers already agree with him. There are other times when Paul is writing, like in Romans, where Paul takes time to explain doctrinal points as he tries to convince his readers of the truth of each point, or exactly how it should be understood. Not so here, he just simply says, “though Christ was God…” and then he goes on, assuming that the readers agree. We will take a trip through Scripture now and see how Christ’s deity is so sure, but know that it wasn’t something that these people in the apostolic age needed to discuss. It was clear, Christ is God. Not just someone related to God, not some greatest creation of God, not just a part or a piece of God. He is God.
How do we know? Where does Christ first appear in the Bible? Well, it all starts with the very first verse. “In the beginning, God.” God was before any of this, before time. And it wasn’t just God the Father, it was the triune God, all three persons of the Trinity. They together as a Trinity were the creators of everything. We get hints of the Trinity immediately. In verse 2, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” And then in verse 26, we get the first great hint of the Trinity when God says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Three times in that verse we get plural pronouns. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, together in the act of creation.
And this is confirmed so beautifully in one of the other strongest defenses of the deity of Christ. We find that in the opening verses of the Gospel of John. We’ll turn there now and see that like Paul, John has absolutely no doubt about who Christ is:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And then moving on to verse 9:
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And then moving to verse 17:
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
John refers to Christ as “the Word” throughout this passage, and in case there is any doubt about that identification he makes it abundantly clear in verse 14 when he says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
It’s such a blessing that God chose to give us four different accounts of the life of Christ in the four gospels, because they are all so different in how they teach us about Christ. If you’ve studied all four at some point, you’ll know that John is the odd one. The other three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are known as the synoptic gospels for their similarities, and John is known as the odd one, and it is clear in the very first words of it. The other three start with factual narrative about the early years of Christ and of John the Baptist. John, on the other hand, goes back to creation. He goes back to Genesis 1, and intentionally restates the opening verse of Genesis in a different way to be sure to link Jesus Christ to that. In the beginning God created. In the beginning was the Word. And He was with God, and He was God. And just in case you don’t yet get my point – nothing was made without him. He was there in the beginning doing it all, with the Father.
These two accounts, they testify to not only the fact that Jesus is God, but also that there was never a time when Jesus was not. He is preexistent. We have trouble sometimes just with those words “father” and “son,” because we only experience that relationship sequentially in time, so it is difficult for our minds to process what it is for Christ to be eternally begotten of the Father, the eternally begotten Son.
Genesis and John are certainly enough to establish that Jesus is God, but guess what, there’s even more evidence, and it’s a big one: we believe Jesus to be God because he said he was. He did, many times. Let’s look at a few of the clearer passages on that point. How about Matthew 7, when Jesus had finished what we call the Sermon on the Mount. At the close of all of that teaching, it is recorded, starting in verse 28:
28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
They recognized by what he said that what he said had authority. He was not speaking to them like a scribe, who was just quoting scriptures or delivering rules, he was speaking with a greater authority, equal to the books themselves. The scribes would reference and cite each other, establish their authority by the weight of others, but Christ spoke as God himself, and they recognized it. It’s why later on in Matthew, when Jesus finally puts the question to his disciples, Peter responds truthfully, in Matthew 16, starting in verse 13:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
If Peter had said that and Christ was not God, he would have been rebuked, but Jesus confirms what Peter confesses in faith. And in John 14, Jesus himself confirms what Paul is telling us in Philippians today, that Jesus is God, he is equal with God. We have this conversation with Philip, John 14, starting in verse 6:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Jesus himself equates himself with the Father in his God-ness. And then three chapters later Christ confirms one of the other vital doctrines, his preexistence with the Father, when he prays to the Father in the high-priestly prayer, John 17:
5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
And perhaps the boldest of statements from Christ about who he was, from John 8:58 – Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM. The same way that God referred to himself to Moses at the burning bush.
The evidence is piling up! The Philippian church didn’t have the gospels of Matthew and John that we were just reading from to confirm all of this, but that just shows you even more how confident the early Christians were about this point of doctrine. In Philippians, Paul merely states it as fact and moves along.
But this point, that Christ is God, is a battle that in the first few centuries of the church, a battle that needed to be fought over and over again. Of all of the heresies that the church has had to fight over 2000 years, there is a whole family of them that go after the deity of Christ, that want to say he is either not God, or lesser than the Father, or wasn’t God and then was made into a God. Just so you know, those heresies are still alive and well today, those that reject the eternal deity of Christ, most clearly and most notably in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church. Both of those religions reject the plain fact here in Scripture that Christ is God, and he always has been. Back in the early church, that heresy was found primarily in the man Arius and his followers, known as the Arians, right in the early 300s.
If you remember your church history, you’ll remember the dispute between Arius and Athanasius. Things were getting a little crazy in northern Africa. Arius was from Lybia, and Athanasius was the bishop of Alexandria. Arius and his followers rejected the idea that Christ was fully God and declared that he may have been the greatest of all, but was still a created being. Athanasius stood firm, even when the winds were blowing in Arius’ direction, and the dispute lead to a gathering of bishops at the Council of Nicaea to discuss this specific question, in 325. And what did they come up with there? Well, we’ll read it in a few minutes, the Nicene Creed. And you can see in this creed how it talks about Christ, to make sure that any idea of Christ not being God is left completely out of the confession. Here is the text, from the year 325. What we’re used to is slightly modified from this, by another council in 381, but you’ll recognize it. See how the early church fathers tried to make it so clear that Jesus was God:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
They made it pretty clear, didn’t they: begotten, not made. Of the same essence, same substance of the Father, and they made the point again also that he with the Father created all things. Those are all of the things that the Nicene Creed affirmed. But just in case you didn’t get it, along with the affirmations, the council also included some denials. That’s common when writing creedal statements, to also include denials, so that there is no doubt. The denials were aimed directly at some of the things that Arius and his followers said specifically:
But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We can thank God for guiding the Council of Nicaea all those many years ago as they were writing that statement. It’s one that has been affirmed by the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches for centuries.
So, at the end of all that, what does it mean for us today? Jesus is God. Well, one of the most obvious responses to the fact that Jesus Christ is God is that he deserves our worship and our giving him glory for everything. We don’t just worship the Father, we worship a triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. I’m not planning today to dive into the mystery of how the Trinity works—that’s another thing that doesn’t fit well into our brains. We’ll talk about the incarnation more specifically next week, but Jesus is both God and many, fully God and fully man. That is so vital! Because he has a human nature, we were able to see him, interact with him, with God, in a way that was previously impossible because God is invisible. And because he has a human nature he was able to be our human representative to take our sins on himself and pay for them. And because he was God, he was able to live a sinless life and create that sinless record that becomes our own.
Sorry the sermon today is far less practical than it is heady and sort of academic, but at the end of it all, recognizing that Christ is God, the message is simple: bow down and worship, give glory. Jesus is the perfect savior, and he is God. To the Philippians, Paul was using him as the perfect example of humility, and he is. He is God, but he didn’t count that as something to be held on to, to be grasped. He created everything, and then he took on the form of one of his creations. Incredible.
So as we enter this season of Advent, looking forward to when Christ will come again, and looking back to when he came the first time, use this season to reflect on how amazing the incarnation was, how profound that reality is, how unfathomable that humiliation was, and because of that, what an incredible savior Christ was to do that. Because he didn’t do it for himself, he did it for you. He took the glory of being God, and he set it aside, because he loved you. Praise and glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Dear heavenly Father, what a profound truth you led us to this morning, the reality that you with the Son and the Spirit created all things from nothing and are together to be worshiped and glorified. Knowing how great and awesome Christ is because he is fully God only makes his incarnation and sacrifice that much more unexpected, unbelievable, and unfathomably humble. Thank you for the gift of Jesus and his sacrifice, because it is our only hope. And as we enter this season of remembrance and hope in the future, enliven our hearts and help us to never forget how amazing and awesome the incarnation was and is. Help us to fall down in awe and wonder at your feet as we remember. In the name of Jesus, the eternal God-man who saves. Amen.