Sermon, December 8, 2019 | Grace Reformed Church
We continue today, on this second Sunday in Advent, in the book of Philippians, chapter 2. It’s the third week that we’ll be looking at the “Christ-hymn,” here in verses 5-11, and it deserves that kind of attention, because here Paul is dwelling on the reality of Christ, who he is, and what he has done as our savior, and he even looks to the future, what is yet to come. And like I said before, this is such a fitting message in this season of Advent, as we both look back to the coming of Christ the first time, and as we also look forward to that great day when, as we often confess, he will come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead. It’s that great day that Paul talks about in the last couple verses of this passage, and we’re going to save that for two weeks from now.
Before we read the passage for today, though, let’s remember where we are, because that will be very important when we apply the truths of this passage to our lives. We want to always be understanding why this passage is right here, what it’s there for. This entire exposition from Paul about Christ is meant to show his Philippian readers and us what true humility is. Christ is the example of perfect humility. And Paul is giving that example so that they can, as he says in chapter 1 verse 27, live as kingdom citizens in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. Humility as the way to live as the way to live like citizens of heaven.
And so last week, we looked at verses 5 and 6, which help us to understand how great the sacrifice of Jesus was. Why was the sacrifice unimaginably great? Because he is unimaginably great to start with. Jesus always was, is, and always will be God. Jesus is God. We looked at many scripture proofs for that point, and it is indisputable. Any attack or accommodation on that subject, the many heresies that deny the deity of Christ, they are all trying to make this reality fit into our minds—that God became man. And so we have a clear picture of Christ before the incarnation—the Son, the second person of the trinity, the eternally begotten, not created, creator of all—so now we can turn to the incarnation. Let’s read Philippians 2:5-8, focusing on verses 7 and 8, listen, this is God’s Holy Word:
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, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
It’s Christmas time. I don’t know if you were at the symphony concert last night, or are going to one of the two big Christmas concerts at the college today, but all of those things are certainly putting us in the Christmas spirit. For those of us who are leaders of musicians, in a way the Christmas season never ends. We start rehearsing the music at the beginning of October, almost three months before the actual holiday. The rest of the year we’re always on the lookout for more music that we could use for next year’s celebration, and on and on it goes. After we part today, I’ve got a lot of Christmas yet to get to.
I remember seeing the arguments going on all over social media about whether or not November first was too early to have your trees and decorations up for a holiday nearly two months away. I’m not here to answer that question. But what we have here in front of us today is of course, as they say, “the reason for the season.” And if we’re keeping that in mind, Christmas is every day. This is something to marvel at—God becoming man. As John said it: “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.”
This is why this extends what we were talking about last week, getting a clear picture of the pre-incarnate Jesus. We can’t understand the incarnation, the reality of what that was, until we have a good picture of who Christ was, his glory, his position, his power, his deservedness. Even though all of those attributes of Jesus are too great to adequately fit into our small minds, we need to think about them so that we can even approach an idea of the magnitude of sacrifice it was for Jesus Christ to become man, to be clothed in flesh, to put on the nature of one of his creations.
So before we dive into some of the details of what it meant for Jesus to become the God-man, homo Deus, I want you to just reflect on that for a second. Writers and poets have been doing the same for centuries. I am always drawn to some of the oldest texts that try to marvel at this reality. One of my favorites:
There is no rose of such vertu, as is the rose that bore Jesu.
For in this rose contained was heaven and earth in little space.
This is of course poetically, symbolically talking about Mary. In this rose contained was heaven and earth in little space. All the majesty, all the power, all the God-ness of Christ, contained in this little space, in the body of a man, in a baby. Think about that! Step back from all of the holiday this and that, all of the family traditions, all of the gift giving and the nativity scenes with a cute little baby in the middle. Step back from all of that and think about heaven and earth in little space. The creator of the world choosing to be born into that same world.
I don’t love to use too many illustrations, but there’s one that I can’t help but continuing to hear in my mind. And of course since this reality is too great for us to completely comprehend, the example falls short. But do you remember the old animated movie Alladin? Twice in the movie they mention the paradox of being a genie. And they say it like this: “Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty-bitty living space.” Maybe you remember, maybe you don’t. I was in junior high when that movie came out, it was definitely part of my childhood. It’s a fantasy, but as far as our made-up conception of a genie goes, it is quite an irony. The genie, who has the power to do just about anything, is forever shackled to this lamp and the wishes of whatever master he has. He is a slave.
That situation creates a big gap in your mind between power and station in life. But however big that gap appears in your mind through that example (which is why those examples are faulty), however big that gap is, the gap for Christ is infinitely wider. The creator of the universe, in the form of a baby.
So we marvel for a moment before we move on.
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Animals. Unclean beasts. These are who are the first to see the newborn Lord. This is why Paul begins this description of the incarnation in verse 7: but he emptied himself. What does that mean? The word “emptied” has caused some confusion over the centuries, again as people try to fit the incarnation into their brains. And this is why when we encounter a word like that we need to keep in mind the whole of scripture, not just this verse. Clearly Christ was God, and his miracles and many other things, John 1 for example, make it clear that when he became man he did not cease being God. So of what did Christ empty himself? What did he set aside? He set aside all of the glory that was due to him. He is God, so he deserves more glory and praise than we could ever give. As much as we can give, he deserves more. His station was the Son of the almighty Father. He had a permanent seat in the throne room, as heir to all things. All things were made by him, and through him, and for him. He didn’t count all of that as something to be grasped, but emptied himself. He set aside his glory and what? Took the form of a servant.
So we need to remember that as a doctrinal point, because it is vital to the gospel—when Christ took on flesh, that’s what happened. He took on, added to himself, a human nature. There was no subtraction, only addition. He is the God-man, and he still is. He took on himself a human nature. Heaven and earth in little space. And that human nature came with all of the pain, suffering, and shame, all of the curses that a sinful human nature is subject to, even though he was without sin.
Think about that for a second. All of the pain that goes along with being a human, all of the weakness that goes along with it. We deserve all of those things because we are sinners, but he was not, but suffered them all the same. Like us he got tired, like us he got sick, like us he got cuts and bruises, suffered emotional hardship and pain, and like us he was tempted every day of his life.
So that’s the first big point, let’s marvel at how great a distance, how unimaginable a distance there is between what Jesus was, and what he voluntarily became. He took on flesh.
So why is it so important that Jesus become man? Why did he have to be fully man? Because only a man could pay the penalty for sin. Paul explains how it works in detail in the book of Romans. Remember Romans is a book just packed full of Paul (and thus God) methodically laying out the doctrine of the Christian faith. If you want to turn to Romans 5, we’ll read starting at verse 12. Why did Christ have to be human? Because a man had to pay the penalty. He explains:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
And Paul says this all more succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15, a text you probably know well:
21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Jesus had to be man in order to be our representative, a new Adam, a perfect Adam. We talked about this when we were looking at Psalm 51 a few months ago. David was saying “create in me a clean heart,” because he knew his heart was no good. He knew that his bad heart, the one that produced wickedness was something that came from his father Adam. Jesus was and is a man so that we can be grafted into a new family, not the one we were born with.
This is why we say that those who reject the full humanity of Christ don’t have the gospel. If you don’t believe that Jesus was a man, then he cannot be your representative, because he isn’t actually like you. To be the new and greater Adam, he had to be an Adam.
And by God’s boundless grace there are even more advantages to Christ being fully man, and it goes to our benefit on a daily basis, not just in one moment on the cross years ago. It has to do with what Jesus does for us constantly right now, in his work as a high priest. The author of the Hebrews explains this as well, chapter 2, verse 17:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Jesus is our perfect high priest because he knows intimately what it is like to be a human. He knows our pain, our struggle.
So Christ is fully man. So then why did Christ have to be, have to also remain, fully God? There are many answers to this question as well, but one is that he had to be perfect. He had to live that life of total obedience, something that could only be done by a perfect God. That perfect life that Christ lived could only be done by him. And living the perfect life was vital! He had to live a sinless life in order to gain the righteousness that he could give to us, that he could clothe us with. He had to sacrifice and pay for our sins, yes, but he also needed to be righteous for us.
So for that it was necessary he was God. It was also necessary because through Christ in flesh God revealed himself visually, personally to us. And it was a perfect, complete iteration of himself. There is nothing that God is that Christ was not in the flesh. And quickly, third, Jesus had to be fully God to serve as a mediator between us and the Father, because no one can come to the Father but by him, and the Father cannot be approached by anyone stained with sin. He is too holy. Christ our mediator, Christ our high priest, clothing us in his perfection so that we can approach the throne of grace.
It is a beautiful thing how this all works together for your and my salvation, isn’t it? We can marvel at the incarnation from an emotional perspective, and we can even marvel at it from a logical perspective. Big surprise, since we all know who created logic!
So let’s circle back around then. God in flesh, Christ coming to Earth, this Christmas. Why again is this passage here and what does it mean for our lives today? He emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and then live an obedient, sinless life to be the lamb without blemish. And he endured pain and suffering we can’t even imagine when he didn’t deserve it. This is here as the perfect example of humility. So much glory set aside and exchanged for a life of perfect servitude.
Once again, the application is not “try harder to be humble, just like Jesus.” Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps will never be the application. Instead, look at Christ’s example of humility, of service, and know that that is the image to which he is conforming you. If his Spirit lives in you, that is who he is making you. He is making you, today, more and more like himself, and it is glorious. Paul says look at this example, this is the heaven citizen that you are becoming, live like it now! Cultivate humility by getting to know your savior better. Plant your roots in his Word and he will show you a more excellent way. Sometimes, in the day to day, it may feel like you are trying to be more humble—good! Celebrate Christ’s work in your life when that happens. But every day, in every way, fall down on your knees and worship your savior, who sacrificed everything for you. Set aside more than we can ever imagine, for your sake.
That’s Christmas. Not a cute little nativity scene. Not a tree, not the songs we love so much. We should be awestruck every day by what that means. Heaven and earth in little space, and that’s just the beginning. The final sacrifice was made on the cross, but an unimaginable sacrifice began when our Lord was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary. Amen.
Heavenly Father, what an amazing truth you bring to us today. We will never fully understand the magnitude of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, but even if we don’t have words to adequately describe it, we can fall down and come before you now and say thank you. Even those words sound trite and completely insufficient, but thank you. Thank you for the gift of your Son, and we bow before your throne of grace. We pray your blessing on our worship today. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, amen.