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TEXT: Philippians 2:5-11
SUBJECT: Studies in the Incarnation #4: Our Example
Why did God become a man?
Most people, of course, don't believe God became a man, but those who do will almost always answer the question in one of two ways. Some people believe God became a man to set an example for us, to show us, by His life and teaching, what it means to be godly, 'human' in the fullest sense of the word. Others believe He joined the human race to redeem us to God by His death on the Cross.
Which answer is right? They both are, and we must always remember that. Theological Liberals are wrong when they ignore or even deny His atoning death, but Conservatives are also wrong when they so emphasize His death, that His example fades into the background.
His Saving Work on the Cross is central to the Bible's message, but His example is also there, and occupies an important place. In fact, the two go together as cause and effect. The death of Christ freed us from the guilt and bondage of sin so that we might become followers of Christ.
This is the topic we'll take up today as we continue our Sunday afternoon series called Studies in the Incarnation.
Our text is Philippians 2:5-11, a passage that covers a good deal of what we've already studied, and I won't labor the points.
The last part of v.5 tells us the passage is about our Lord, whom the Apostle here calls--
This is not the only place he calls Him that, of course, but it is somewhat unusual, and emphasizes, I think, His Royalty. Christ Jesus is another way of saying, 'King Jesus'. In Jewish history, the king was anointed by God, and that's what 'Christ' means, 'the anointed'.
Paul wants us, therefore, to remember our Lord's dignity, the honors that rightfully belong to Him. Tyrants seize the honors and enforce them by brute force, but not the True King. They are His by right, and everyone who sees the King for what He is, gladly bows the knee to Him.
There's no secret service in Heaven or press secretary: nobody needs to protect the King or put a good spin on what He says and does. Angels and glorified men worship Him from the heart.
This is the 'Jesus' Paul wants us to be thinking about when He tells us, that...
THE FORM OF GOD
Jesus is also God, v.6--
Who, being in the form of God.
The English word, 'form' may be somewhat misleading, suggesting that Jesus may look like God, but He isn't really God. Compare this to what Paul says in another place, when he contrasts--
The form of godliness...
...with the real thing, true godliness.
This, however, is not what he means here. To be in God's form means He shares God's nature, that Jesus is God in an unqualified sense; He's not a speck less Divine than the Father or the Holy Spirit.
ROBBERY TO BE EQUAL WITH GOD
Then, in the second half of v.6, Paul says maybe the most shocking thing in the Bible. Jesus--
Did not think it robbery to be equal with God.
The wording is a bit opaque, but the meaning is crystal clear: Jesus, having every right to all the honors of Divinity, emptied Himself of them. Not of Divinity itself, but of the honors thereof!
And the key thing is: He wasn't stripped of the honors, either by God or man, but He willingly let go of them, v.8--
He humbled Himself.
There's little virtue in humbling yourself when you have no choice. I can still remember the tear-stained face of Jimmy Swaggart when he got caught with a prostitute: how he confess and cried and apologized!
And though we've not cried and pleaded for mercy on television as he did, we've all had the experience in our own small ways. Everyone has been fired or demoted or flunked or rejected or found out. It's a painful experience; later we may confess that it was good for us, but we'll never say it was enjoyable.
We didn't want to humble ourselves, but we had no choice. Humiliation was thrust upon us. This is not true of Christ Jesus! Unlike you and me, He chose humiliation.
And what a humiliation He chose! Not a quick blushing and a few words of apology muttered under His breath, but a self-humbling beyond all measuring! Paul offers a few bullet points (you might say)--
Made Himself of no reputation
Taking the form of a servant
Coming in the likeness of men
Becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
The five steps humiliations are in complete contrast to what He had by right.
The Man who had no reputation here, was the Name above all names in Heaven. The servant on Earth was the Master of Heaven. The Man in this world was Man's Maker in the world above. The one who took orders here, gave orders there. The one who died here was the Prince of Life there.
This is the kind of humbling our Lord accepted of His own free will--and more than accepted, the humbling He chose and stuck with till the bitter end.
We sometimes think the Lord made one choice to become a Man, and after that, all the choices were more-or-less made for Him. This is not true! He could have changed His mind at any time, stepped out of humanity, or gone straight to the throne without bothering with the cross! Thus, it wasn't one choice He made, but millions of choices, every day choosing no reputation over the reputation He deserved.
God approved of daily choices, and when His work was done, God exalted to the highest glory, restoring Him to His former glory and adding a human glory to it!
These are the choices God made when He became a man, and, when you follow the argument of this passage, you'll see Paul brings up His choices for a practical reason: He wants us to make the same choices ourselves! He wants us to--
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, esteem others better than ourselves...
Let each one of you look out, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Did Jesus ever think of Himself as 'too good' to do something? Was any work 'beneath his dignity'? If you remember the day He washed the disciples' feet--the work of slave boy--you'll know the answer. Jesus wasn't 'too big, too important, or too busy' to serve others in love.
How easy it would have been for Him to look down on other people, people who made unreasonable demands on His time, or disciples who never missed a lesson--and never learned one either!
He could have lived in a perennial state of aggravation, of disappointment, resentment, hurt--and withdrawal! But had He withdrawn from us, where would we be?
I feel rather proud of myself when I 'think of others', when I don't completely ignore their feelings or wishes. How Christian I feel when I think of others! Until I remember that Jesus didn't 'think of others'--He thought of others...first! He put their interests (our salvation) above His own desires, and His own life.
Nobody here was--
Conceived by the Holy Spirit or
Born of the Virgin Mary.
Nobody was born in Bethlehem, nobody was announced by angels or worshiped by shepherds, and or visited by the Magi. We are not Christ Himself; we are not--
The Word made flesh.
But without a miracle, we can imitate the Incarnation, we can choose to live as our Savior did, and not only choose to, but--to some degree--we can live as He did. Because He has redeemed us, freed us from our guilt, given us His Spirit, shown us His example, and invited us to--
Take up our cross daily, and follow Him.
God does not only want you to tell the Christmas Story, therefore, but to enact it in your daily life. God enable us to do so. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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