How Did the Personality of Jesus Set an Example For His People? What Does it Mean that He Emptied Himself? #89
Happy Saturday, friends – how’s everybody out there doing in quarantine land? I hope you are getting a walk everyday, if that is possible where you live. Allow me to urge you to press into the Lord in prayer right now. We must pray in the midst of this crisis – let the son of God find faith on earth in His people now! (Luke 18:1-9). I was enjoying a nice evening walk last night before bed, engrossed in a podcast, when I was nudged by the Spirit to pray, and it was a wonderful time of communion and intercession with God. May we prioritize abiding in Christ right now more so than ever in this season!
Today’s Bible passages are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, John 18 and Philippians 2, which is our focus passage. In that chapter, Paul gives us one of the deepest descriptions of the person and character of Jesus. Let’s read it, focusing in our attention on verses 5-11:
5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,Philippians 2:5-11
6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
7 Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
9 For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Many scholars believe the above verses are an early hymn of the church, or a creed that was repeated among Christians, or both, which is why these verses are set apart in many Bibles. Paul wrote them in a chiastic structure, which is indicative of ancient and modern poetry. Further, this section doesn’t use words and word order in quite the same way that Paul usually wrote, which seems to indicate the possibility that somebody other than Paul wrote this hymn/creed, and Paul was sharing it – not in a plagiaristic way – but as a reference that they would all be familiar with. (Certainly, Paul could have also written the creed/hymn as well) From a scholarly point of view, this passage is important, because Philippians was probably written by Paul in the mid 50s AD, but this creed would have been earlier than that – perhaps much earlier. It demonstrates that early Christians – prior to the writing of this letter – worshipped Jesus as Lord. But, we aren’t here to talk about scholarly things – we are here to talk about the character of Jesus!
Notice the intro here – Christians are to ‘adopt’ the same attitude that Jesus had. More literally, Paul is saying that Christians should have the mind, or mindset of Christ. What does this mean? It means several things, reading through the passage.
*Christians are saved children of God, but like Jesus, we are not to seek to EXPLOIT that status or use it to our advantage.
*Like Jesus, we are to take the form and nature and character of a SERVANT (the Greek word is doulos – often translated as ‘slave,’ but more in line with a bondservant than the monstrosity of racial slavery perpetuated in many Western countries in previous centuries.
*Like Jesus, we are to HUMBLE ourselves, and be willing to SERVE others – even in menial ways.
*Like Jesus, we are to humble ourselves and OBEY God – even when He calls us to difficult things.
The good news is that Jesus – living a humble, obedient and servant-hearted lifestyle that was characterized by suffering was greatly glorified by His Father afterwards. That promise is also given to Christians who follow the mindset and attitude of Jesus in 2nd Timothy 2:12 “if we endure, we will also reign with him.” In this same light, consider Romans 8
16 The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, 17 and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:16-17
Likewise 2nd Corinthians 1:7
7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.2 Corinthians 1:7
Pastor Tim Keller has a wonderful take on this passage, and I’ll close with it here:
What did he do? Here’s what he did. This is the heart of it all. Right in the center of this passage it says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing …” Do you know what that Greek word is? Kenosis. Does that sound familiar to you? It says he emptied himself. Though he was God, he emptied himself. The big question theologians have been asking for about 2,000 years is, “Emptied himself of what?” It doesn’t say; it just says he emptied himself.
Some people say, “Of course, he was God, so he emptied himself of his deity, he emptied himself of his divinity.” That’s not what it says. It never says he gave up being God. It says he started being a servant. He did not shed his divine nature. He assumed a human nature, and more than that, he became not just a King, he became a servant. There it is. He emptied himself of his glory, not his deity.
If you were transported to heaven, then or now, and you saw Jesus as God, his Godness manifested itself through an expression of glory, his beauty, his brightness. It would just knock you down. When you see something beautiful, when you see a piece of art, or a waterfall, or anything that’s just absolutely beautiful, even earthly things that are beautiful, you have to adore. Right? It’s so glorious; it just evokes adoration. Jesus Christ came without that. Isaiah 53 says, “He had … no beauty that we should desire him.”
He emptied himself of his glory. He emptied himself of his beauty. He emptied himself of that which evokes honor. He came, and he was lonely and poor. Eventually, he was beaten, tortured, and killed. He emptied himself of his glory. He became small, not a king at all. He became rejected. He became beatable, and he was beaten. He became rejectable, and he was rejected. He lost all of his glory. He came without his glory. He didn’t stop being God, but he emptied himself of his glory.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him …” Why? Why is he resurrected? Why is he up there? Because he saved us. He took our punishment upon himself. He redeemed a new humanity, and he’s leading us into the future. So there it is. There’s the trajectory. What is the trajectory, everybody? The way up is down. The way to be truly rich is to give away. The way to rule is to serve. The way to become infinitely happy is to not seek your own happiness but to seek the happiness of others.
The most glorious thing of all, the greatest form of glory, is to give away your glory for somebody else. The word kenosis shows up twice. Look at it. You and I are desperately trying to fill ourselves with glory, but we end up empty. Jesus Christ, who had true glory, emptied himself so we could be full. Full? Yes. Because Jesus Christ became small, we are big in the eyes of the Father. Because Jesus Christ lost all of his glory, we are now given his righteousness and his record.
This is what the gospel is: Jesus Christ was treated the way we deserve so now when we believe in him we are treated the way he deserves to be treated. Do you know what this means? Jesus Christ looks at you and says, “To me and in me, you are more precious than all the jewels that lie beneath the earth.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
To the degree you know that and believe that, to the degree you are gripped and praising God and singing about Jesus’ trajectory for you, you will be able to walk that same trajectory here, because you will know the way up is down, the way to be rich is to give away, the way to be happy is not to seek your own happiness but the happiness of others. When you see he did that for you, that fills you up so you’re not empty anymore. You’ll be able to not have to think about yourself, and out you go.