As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I am overcome by the wonder of the incarnation. More than any other passage of scripture, Philippians 2:5-8 describes the stunning sacrifice made by Jesus during the incarnation. That passage reads:
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,
7 but made himself nothing, 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. (ESV)
Every section of the above paragraph is full of meaning. My purpose in this post is to briefly look at each section of verses six through eight. I’ll primarily do this by looking at corresponding scripture.
In verse five, Paul is exhorting his readers to strive for unity by having a mind like that of Christ. He then reminds them of what Christ did, serving as the perfect example of humility.
Verse 6a tells us, “who, though he was in the form of God,”. John 1:1-5 gives us more information about the fact that Jesus is God. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” So as we think about the incarnation, we need to remember that Jesus is fully God. He has always existed, and has always been with the Father (except while on earth). Jesus was also intricately involved with all creation. He is the source of all light and hope for this world.
Verse 6b states, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,”. In John 14:28, Jesus says, “You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Here Jesus plainly states that the Father is greater than he is. He does not mean that the Father has more value than he does, but that the Father’s role is above that of Christ’s. By saying this, Jesus is making clear the fact that he is not grasping for the Father’s position. Later in John’s gospel, in chapter 17:1-5, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” In this prayer, Jesus says that he glorified the Father during his time on earth, and also accomplished the tasks the Father gave him to do. This illustrates that Jesus was submissive to the will of his Father.
In verse 7a, we learn, “but (Jesus) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,”. Scripture shows us Jesus’ servanthood both in word and deed. In Mark 10:45, Jesus says of himself, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In John 13:1-5, during Christ’s last evening before the crucifixion, we learn, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” We learn from Mark and John that Jesus both said he was a servant and acted this out.
Verses 7b and 8a tell us, “being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,”. We learn more about this in John 1:14. This verse says, “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.” The word “form” (morphe in Greek) used by John is the same word he used in verse six. In verse six, Jesus is in the form of God. This means he was 100% God. In verses 7b and 8a, we see that Jesus was in the form of a human. This means that he was 100% man (not some sort of part-human or just a good likeness of humanity). Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. This is the miracle of the incarnation. This is extremely important to us because Jesus had to be fully human in order to take our place on the cross.
Finally, we see the most amazing part of the incarnation. In 8b, Paul writes, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” A much fuller description of the crucifixion can be found in the final “servant-song” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The centerpiece of this song falls in verses 4-6. These three verses state, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus not only died for sins, but suffered the most humiliating, painful death possible.
As we all celebrate Christmas, may our main focus be the amazing incarnation of our Lord. We see in Philippians 2 just how much Jesus gave up in order to obey the will of His Father. The perfect Son of God, being fully God himself, humbled himself by taking on humanity. Not only that, he came as a servant. Not only that, he submitted to the worst sort of death imaginable. He did it to pay for the sins of his followers.
That is something worth celebrating.