Boy, this is an odd passage to read on Christmas Day, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be reading about angels visiting shepherds and Wise Men bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh? Well, next year we’ll go into more traditional Christmas passages like Luke chapter 2, and we already took a look at the Magi a few months ago. Since we’re talking about the nature of Christ, this still falls into the Christmas season. And I think in some ways this passage can “fill in the blanks” on what we typically miss during this time.
What do I mean? During the Christmas season, we tend to focus on what happened on our “side.” I’m referring to the physical events that are described in Luke 2 and Matthew 1 and 2. Starting with Gabriel’s visit to Mary, those are narratives which describe the physical events surrounding Christ’s birth. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that: The authors of the Gospels, under the inspiration of the Spirit, included those stories in their writings.
But I think by exclusively focusing on the physical events surrounding this, we miss out.
You see, there’s more to this world than the physical realm. While these things were happening on earth, something was happening in the Heavenly realm. And that’s what today’s passage is all about.
When Christians have debated those who deny the deity of Christ, they tend to point to this passage, and rightly so. Paul here explicitly affirms the deity of Christ, and his thoughts are worth examining a bit more closely.
He says that Jesus was “in very nature God.” It could also be translated as “in the form of,” but that by no means implies that he wasn't divine. As we said before, everything that God is in himself, Jesus is: Eternal from eternity past, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. That’s what Paul is saying when he says that Jesus was “in very nature God.”
But he didn’t consider his privileges as God something to be used for his own advantage or held on to, something to be grasped, as some translators render it. The Father asked him to give up some of these privileges, and he did so, joyfully.
And I want to emphasize that he did so with full knowledge (being omniscient) of what that entailed. He didn’t walk into this with anything less than fully conscious and informed consent. He knew about the indignities, small and great, he’d undergo, just by virtue of being human. He knew about the frustrations, the deprivations, the pain, the betrayal, the mockery, the torture, the ignominious death. And most of all, he was fully aware that carrying my sin on his back was going to—for a short time—separate him from fellowship with the Father, which he had had since eternity past. It would be Hell, quite literally.
What does it mean, he “made himself nothing”? Literally he “emptied himself.” Now let’s be clear: He did not empty himself of his deity. When he took on human flesh, he was still fully God as much as he was fully man. No, once again this is talking about him emptying himself regarding his divine prerogatives and privileges. That’s why it says he “[took] the very nature of a servant.” Yes, that’s the same word as Paul uses in verse 6. He was as much a servant as he was God. He didn’t just take the “form” of a servant—that’s where I disagree with some translations. That makes it sound like he wasn’t really a servant. He was. His nature as God and his nature as a servant are inextricably linked.
The picture Paul presents is like a deep-sea diver. He jumps off the cliff, hits the water, and then goes deeper and deeper and deeper into the dark depths below him. Jesus left Heaven behind, took on a human body inside the womb of Mary, and was born. And then his whole life was a series of small humiliations growing into bigger ones. And then finally—the greatest and ultimate humiliation, the humiliation of dying naked on the cross. Let me tell you: There’s a reason why this type of execution was reserved for the basest of criminals and slaves, and was never applied to a Roman citizen.
Tomorrow we’re going to start talking about the victory of Christ. But I thought that this passage, moreso than maybe even the traditional Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke, is appropriate for this day that we celebrate. Yes, his birth was heralded by angels and shepherds and (eventually) Wise Men. That’s all good. But that falls short of what he deserved. If he was born into the grandest palace on earth to the most powerful king and was worshiped ecstatically by every single person on earth with unwavering loyalty, that still would not be all that he deserved.
This passage gives us just a hint of what he did. For you. And for me.
Lord Jesus, what can I say? When I read passages like this, my faltering words seem so inadequate to capture just wonderful you are, and what you did for me. Thank you. I’m yours.