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Bible Search
The Humiliation of Christ, Philippians 2:5-8
Christ Humbled, Christ Exalted
The Humiliation of Christ
Philippians 2:5-8
 
As I thought and prayed about what to preach next on these Sunday evenings, God brought to mind the strange mixture of the suffering and the glory of Jesus and now both were a vital part of Who He is.   
 
In regard to that, a number of times during the study of Isaiah 52 and 53, I referenced Philippians 2.  And I think an appropriate follow-up to what we’ve seen from an Old Testament viewpoint would be to see a New Testament perspective.  So we’ll take about four Sunday nights to look at the humiliation and exaltation of Christ from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. 
 
In particular, tonight we’ll look at
 
verses 5-8
 
Now obviously the first take-away from these verses is that here we find a model for our own lives.   This is the standard we are to follow.  But I don’t want to approach the text from that perspective.  Instead, I want to look at the theology of what we find here because here we find the very heart of what we believe. 
 
Here we find the incarnation.  The greatest miracle God ever performed was when He became man that He might die for us. And it is a great injustice to this passage if we simply read it and say we are to be like Christ in the way we live and not see the deeper teaching it provides for us.
Now what we find here is that Christ descended to condescend to re-ascend.  Jesus came down and became one of us so He could go back to where He came from and rightfully deserved and take us with Him. 
 
Let’s begin with
 
1. The Descension
 
verse 6
 
This is where the incarnation begins. He existed in the form of God.  He was “in the form of God”.  This is the place from which He descends and condescends to where He will re-ascend. 
 
Now the best way to understand the phrase is to understand the word “form”.  The word is used twice in this text, both here and in verse 7. 
 
The Greek word used there is “morphe”. We still use a very similar word in the English.  We say “morph” and we are generally talking about changing from one shape to another.  The Greek word is a little more complex than that.  It does include being in the form or shape of.  But more to the point, it signifies the essence or essential being or nature.
 
Here, applied to God it means Jesus was the form of God.  He is the deepest being of God.  In other words, at the deepest level possible, Jesus is God and has always and will always continuously and unalterably exist in that form. 
 
 
To make it simple, he is saying Jesus is God. He possesses the very being and the very nature of God and He has always possessed that.
 
In fact, as the verse continues, He was equal with God.  That word "equal" is interesting. The Greek word is isos and it means exactly equal in size, quantity, quality, character, number, whatever. But it means exactly equal.
 
We use it that way even in English. Are you familiar with terms like isomer? Some of you in science are. An isomer is a chemical molecule having very slightly different structure from another molecule but being absolutely identical with it in terms of its chemical elements and weight. It's equal.
 
Jesus was exactly equal with God. He is in the form of God. He is God. 
 
But in verse 6 we encounter the first downward step in His descension. 
 
Even though He was God, He didn’t have to hold on to that. He did not consider it robbery.  He didn’t
grasp that or clutch it or seize it.  He didn't possess it as something that couldn’t be given up.  He turned lose of that aspect of His form or being. 
 
Is that not what Scripture teaches us? There was no question that Jesus claimed to be God and the people who listened to Him knew He claimed it. That’s one of the reasons the Jews wanted to kill Him.  He claimed to be God!
 
 
 
But even though He had all the rights and privileges and honors of being God, He didn't clutch them. That word originally meant robbery, or a thing gained by robbery or a thing seized. But it came to mean anything clutched, embraced, held tightly, prized, clung to. He existed as God but He refused to cling to that favored position. He refused to cling to all the rights and honors that went with it. He was willing to give them up.
 
That's the incredible message of Christianity. It's not the same as other religions. In other religions you find an angry God who must be appeased.  In Christianity you see God looking down on wretched sinners who hate Him and are His enemies and willingly yielding up His privileges to come down for their sake. The incarnation begins with the unselfishness of the second person of the trinity.
 
The second downward step is in
 
verse 7
 
"He made Himself of no reputation.  Instead of hanging on to being God and all that meant, He emptied Himself. 
 
Being equal with God didn't lead Him to fill Himself up.  it lead Him to empty Himself.  It’s a very graphic expression. He emptied Himself.  That included self-renunciation, refusal to use what was rightfully His, refusal to cling to His advantages and privileges as God. Can you imagine? God who owns everything, who can do everything, who has a right to everything, who is fully satisfied within Himself...but He emptied Himself?
 
Now the question that initiates is this:  Of what?  Of what did He empty Himself? 
 
Well, it wasn’t His deity.  If He ceased to be God or less than God, everything else falls apart.  He couldn't be less than Who He was. He did not cease to be God. Want proof?  Then travel to the Mount of Transfiguration and watch Him pull back the flesh and reveal His true nature. 
 
If He had been emptied of His deity, He would have died on a cross and stayed there in the grave because only God had power over death. 
 
So what did He give up?  Well for starters, He gave up His 
 
- Glory
 
He gave up His Heavenly glory for the muck of this earth. He gave up the worship of angels. He gave up all of the shining brilliance of the glories of heaven for the dark prison where He was kept before His death. Yes, He emptied Himself of His glory.
 
Second, He emptied Himself of
 
- Authority
 
Now I will be the first to tell you I don't understand how the trinity operates. I know it operates in perfect harmony. And I know that in perfect harmony there would be no discord or disagreement. But in some mysterious way which my mind will never understand, He completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father.
He voluntarily laid aside the exercise of His own will and He learned to be a servant and He submitted Himself. In fact, verse 8 says He was obedient.
 
I don't understand that but it was a necessary part of becoming human.  In the garden, we find Him praying "Not My will but Thine be done." He learned obedience by the things He suffered, Hebrews 5 says. In John 5:30, He said, “I have come to do the Father's will.”  So He emptied Himself of His independent authority.
 
Thirdly, He set aside His
 
-Attributes
 
We’re in deep water here and I admit that I’m talking above my head.  As we’ve already seen, Jesus was fully God and as such omniscient.  He was omnipresent.  He was unchangeable.  And just because He was in a human body, none of that changed.  He didn't stop being anything.
 
He just limited the use of those attributes. That they are still resident is clear.  He knew what people were thinking.  He saw Nathaniel when He wasn't even where Nathaniel was.  He didn't give up any of His deity but He gave up the free exercise of those attributes and limited Himself to the point where in Matthew 24:36 He says, "No man, including Him, knows when the Son of Man will come.  He restricted His abilities and attributes as God. 
 
Fourth,   He emptied Himself of His
 
- Personal Riches
What did Paul say to the Corinthians?  “Though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty might be made rich.”
 
In this world, he became terribly poor.  He had nothing, not even a pillow.   
 
And finally, He emptied Himself of His
 
- Relationship with God
 
"He who knew no sin was made sin for us”, which led to the cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He gave up a favorable relationship to God.
 
Now think about what we’re seeing here.  Even though He gave up His heavenly glory and the full enjoyment of it, though He gave up independent authority and exercise of His own will and learned obedience, though He gave up the freedom to express all of the majesty of all of His attributes,  and though He gave up personal riches for the poverty of this world and though He gave up a favorable relationship with God when He was made sin, through it all, He never ceased to be God.
 
At any moment in time He could have blasted His enemies off the face of the earth with the breath of His mouth. Forget about calling ten thousand angels.  This is God!  With one sound from His lips, He could have eradicated humanity.  But He didn't. Instead He chose to empty Himself.
 
 
 
But that’s not all.  He took another step downward in verse 7.  Not only did He empty Himself by giving up something, He also emptied Himself by taking something on.
 
Look at verse 7 again. 
 
"He took the form of a bondservant."
 
He emptied Himself of everything that looked like God and replaced it with the form of a servant.
 
Notice the word "form" again.  It’s exactly the same word.  Without ceasing to be God, He literally took on the essence of a servant. That’s what we saw in Isaiah 52:13 and 14.  Messiah, God says, is My servant.
 
Try to imagine that!  He owned everything. But when He came into this world as a man, He owned nothing.   He had to borrow a place to be born and not much of a place at that. He had to borrow a place to lay His head.  He didn't have a home. Many nights He slept on the Mount of Olives.
 
He had to borrow a boat to cross the little Sea of Galilee. He had to borrow an animal to ride into the city when He was being triumphantly welcomed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He had to borrow a room for the Passover because He didn't even have a house in Jerusalem.
 
He had to borrow a tomb to be buried in. The only person who had the right to everything wound up with nothing and became a servant.
 
This is God in human flesh and He had nothing!  He had no advantages.  He had no privileges. He came as a servant.
 
Then He came down another step. It says in verse 7,
 
"He came in the likeness of men."
 
He became man.  He was really a human, 100% man.  He didn't stop being God. He is God-man.  He had all of the essence of humanity, body, soul, mind and spirit.  That's why in Luke 2:52 it says, "He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." He was growing as a human.
 
The writer of Hebrews says He had the same kind of flesh and blood that we do.  When He came into the world, He took on normal human flesh.  He felt the same pains and emotions and sorrows.  He experienced all the test and temptation of men.
 
Then verse 8 takes Him down another step.
 
“And being found in appearance as a man."
 
That seems to be a repeat of what was just said, but it isn't." In verse 7, He came in the likeness of men.  That’s from the nature side of it.  That’s Who He was. 
 
Verse 8 is about how He appeared to the world.  In other words, He was in the likeness of men as verse 7 says, and everyone Who saw Him, verse 8, knew it and recognized it. 
 
 
He is God/man, but as people viewed Him they saw Him in the appearance of a man.  His likeness was Who He was on the inside.  But they just looked at the outward appearance and all they saw was a man. 
 
But there was so much more that they didn't see and that’s a part of His humiliation.  He deserved to be seen as king of kings and lord of lords, but He came all the way down to be the God/man and most of those around Him never saw the God part. They simply looked at Him and His appearance was a man.
 
Listen, it was sad enough that God became man in the first place.  But for God to become man and man to think He is only man is humiliating.  He did all the works and He said all the words, performed all the miracles and they said, "This man has a demon." The Jews said, "We know this man, we know His mother and father. We know where He's from and where does He come off saying, I came down from heaven?
 
They just saw Him as a man. And that was so humiliating.  Here He is God in human flesh, King of Kings, the regal royal majestic King of the universe and they don't even know it. And they treat Him not only like man but the worst of men. They treat Him like a criminal.
 
And how did Jesus respond?  He went down even lower.
 
Verse 8
 
"He humbled Himself."
 
It would have been enough for Him to just be willing not to hang on to being God, but He came all the way down to being a bondservant who was made exactly like human beings Who then suffered on a cross as a criminal. 
 
The humiliation is absolutely unbelievable.  So how low did He go?
 
Verse 8 says, "By becoming obedient to the point of death” and not just death but the last statement, "Even death on a cross."
 
The word "even" calls attention to the shocking feature of Christ's ultimate humiliation. Not just death but even death on a cross.
 
Crucifixion was the most excruciating, embarrassing, degrading, painful, humiliating death a person could ever die. 
 
It was originally devised by the Persians and later perfected by the Romans and actually reserved for the worst of criminals. The Jews hated it because they remembered Deuteronomy 21:22 which said, "Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree." And when the Jews cried for the crucifixion of Jesus the intention was to expose and humiliate Him as the imposter they thought Him to be. 
 
This is the ultimate in human degradation, hanging in the sky, stark-naked, as it were, before the watching world with nails driven through your hands and feet.
 
There He is, the God who created the universe.
 
You would think that somewhere along the downward path He traveled, He would have said to Himself, "You know, these people aren't worth this.  This is too degrading. This is too humiliating."
 
But this is what He did. That's the grace of God. That's the love of God for sinners. And He did it to die for you and die for me. This is an amazing plan, is it not?
 
If we had planned it, we would have sent Him to a palace, born into wealth and a prominent family, had had Him educated in the finest universities with all the most elite teachers and had Him enjoy the finest the world had to offer. 
 
We would have made sure everybody loved Him and revered Him and honored Him and respected Him. We would have been sure that everyone knew Who He was and what He had and word would have gone out that God Himself has come to live among us. 
 
We certainly would never have let Him be born in a stable to a family that was poor.  And He certainly didn’t need to get all dirty in a carpenter shop in an obscure town in Galilee. We would never ever have allowed Him to live without any earthly goods, nor would we have allowed Him to go through His life and ministry with a rag-tag band of followers like He did. We would have made sure that we had people qualified to be His disciples. And the qualifications would have been very stiff.
 
No doubt, we would have done it differently. We would never have allowed Him to be humiliated. We would have imprisoned or executed anybody who spit on Him, or pulled His beard or mocked Him to the face or drove nails through His hands.  We would have done it very differently and the world would have gone to hell.   
 
Is it any wonder that the psalmist says in Psalm 36:6, "Thy judgments are like a great deep?"
 
This is too much for us. How unsearchable are His ways.  How immeasurable is His grace!  How inifntie His love!  And this God has done for us.  
 
Let’s pray. 
 
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