The Humility of Christ at Christmas (Philippians 2:5-8)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

The Humility of Christ at Christmas

Philippians 2:5-8

Have you seen someone play Limbo? It’s a dance invented in Trinidad, where you lower yourself under a bar without touching the ground. Over and over they shout, “How low can you go? How low can you go?” That’s what you need to ask of Jesus at Christmas. This was not merely the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago–this was the greatest act of humility the earth has ever seen.

The majority of people on the planet do not know how low Jesus went at Christmas, so we will ask this Christmas morning, “How low did Christ go?” And the answer is found in the Bible, in Philippians 2:5 through 8. Paul is using Christ’s example to motivate the Philippians to humble themselves, to go low, for the sake of unity with others. Turn to Philippians 2:5 to 8–this is a 1st century hymn, made up of eight incredible steps of humility by Jesus, with the biggest steps of humility taking place on Christmas.

Let’s read together verses 5 through 8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” How low did Christ go?

STEP 1  Christ didn’t press for His RIGHTS  Verse 6b

Jesus Christ is God–God the Son. There is one God in three persons and Christ is the second person of the Trinity–the one true God. Yet God the Son did not demand what should have been given to Him. He didn’t demand His rights. The Bible says Christ is our Creator–Jesus created everything. Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Christ created you and Christ created me–and Christ created this world, solar system, galaxy and universe. What would it be like to be able to create the Sun–that bright ball in the sky? The Sun accounts for 99.86% of the mass of the solar system. Over one million Earths could fit inside the Sun. The energy created by the Sun is nuclear fusion. It takes eight minutes for the Sun’s light to hit the Earth. The Sun rotates the opposite direction as the Earth while it travels 136 miles per second in its orbit. The Sun’s core temperature is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, and only 9 to 10 thousand degrees on its surface. That’s one sun–our galaxy contains 200 billion suns in a universe with 125 billion observable galaxies.

Yet with all that greatness, power and knowledge, Paul tells us in verse 6, “[Christ] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Here the second person of the Trinity did something incredible. Christ refused to selfishly cling to His high position as God. Jesus refused to fight for what He deserved from others. Our God deserves our worship, our admiration–we should be thanking him for this life and the blessings of this life. Yet Jesus gave up His rights and humbled Himself for you. How low did Christ go?

STEP 2  Christ EMPTIED Himself  Verse 7a

Verse 5 to 7a, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself.” Christ emptied Himself–not of His nature, nor any of His attributes, nor His deity. On Earth Christ was still fully the second person of the Trinity and still 100% glorious God. But Jesus did give up the rights of deity, the privileges of deity, the prerogatives of deity and the blessings of deity.

How did He do this? On Christmas, Christ was God born in a baby body. God added 100% humanity to His 100% deity. Christ veiled His glory as God, under the cloak of His humanity, so He looked just like a normal Bethlehem baby. To empty means Christ literally made Himself nothing. How fragile is a human baby? Baby animals can walk within hours, but human children can’t walk for 6 to 12 months. We are super fragile, super dependent–yet our Creator was born a human baby at Christmas.

When Christ emptied Himself, it wasn’t any lessoning of deity, but the addition of humanity, and the veiling of deity. Christ was, and is, equal to the Father in essence–but submissive to the Father in function, and a human baby at birth. Mary held her Creator in her arms. How low did Christ go?

STEP 3  Christ embraced the Role of a SLAVE

Read verse 7b, “taking the form of a bond-servant”–this is shocking. Look back at verse 6 when Paul said, “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The Greek word form means nature–Christ is by nature God. The shock then comes in verse 7 from the same word form. Paul is telling us when 100% God, in the person of Christ, took on 100% humanity, becoming the God-man–Christ also took on the very nature of a slave.

Your God, the Creator of the universe, the only Savior from your sins, came to Earth as a slave. Paul isn’t saying Christ merely possessed the external appearance of a slave. Nor is he telling us the Lord disguised Himself as a slave. Rather, verse 7 says Christ adopted the very nature of a slave. Christ did not merely put on a slave’s garment–Christ actually became a slave in the fullest sense for you.

Just as fully as He existed in the form of God (verse 6), Christ now existed in the form of a slave (verse 7). The Greek word bond-servant/slave describes a person who owned nothing–everything he had, including his life, belonged to his master. Slavery in the Roman Empire denied a person the right to anything, even his own life. A slave was a piece of property. When verse 7b says, “taking the form of a bond-servant“, it means Jesus decided to strip Himself of all His rights.

Jesus owned no land or house. Christ had no gold or jewels. Christ owned no business, no boat and no horse. He had to borrow a donkey when He rode into Jerusalem in His triumphal entry. Jesus had to borrow a room for the Last Supper. Christ even had to be buried in a borrowed tomb. Christ entered the stream of human life as a baby at Christmas without advantage, without rights or without privileges. He was the Creator, the only King–but lived as a slave.

The owner of everything owned nothing. The One who made everything left everything for you. The wealthiest chose to be the poorest for you. Second Corinthians 8:9, “Though Christ was rich, yet for your sake Christ became poor.” Christ exchanged the rich mode of existence of Heaven for an infinitely poorer mode of existence on Earth. The Prince chose to became the pauper.

In John 13, Jesus demonstrates the heart of a slave by washing the disciples’ feet. In the upper room, Jesus laid aside His garments, just as He had laid aside His royal splendor. He took a towel and girded Himself, exactly like a slave would–and like a slave, Jesus washed every disciple’s dirty feet, even Judas. You wonder, don’t you–when it came to grabbing Judas’s feet to wash them, did He give them an extra jerk and twist? God was not only born a man, but He chose to became a slave. How low did Christ go?

STEP 4  Christ lived as a MAN

Verse 7c adds, “and being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus Christ is 100% glorious God, but in the incarnation Christ also became 100% sinless man. The next line of this theological poem now

draws attention to the genuine human nature of Christ. When Christ was born in Bethlehem as a baby, even when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, it was God adding humanity to Himself–that’s Christmas.

Jesus was not pretending to be human–He was fully man and fully God. Verse 7 says Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.” The participle “being made” suggests a beginning or becoming something, describing Jesus becoming God in a bod. He didn’t always exist as God-man, but at Christmas, humanity was added to deity, resulting in Jesus becoming the only God-man. Christ always existed in the form of God, by nature fully God–but Christ came into existence (or was born) “in the likeness of men.”

God became a man in the incarnation–hear the word carne, chili con carne or chili with meat? In-carne means God with meat on. “Made in the likeness of men”–men means humankind. And likeness speaks of similarity, that which is made to be like something else–not merely in appearance, but in reality. Jesus is in reality a true man, fully man. But also Jesus is more than man. Jesus was not a facsimile of a man. No, Christ became like all other human beings, having all the attributes of humanity–a genuine man among men.

Like you, Christ was tired, needed food, water and sleep. Christ wept, even suffered pain and sadness. Christ became like all other men, but not exactly. In verse 7 here, Christ is by nature man. But in verse 6, Christ was also by nature God. Paul’s words are chosen carefully here. By saying Jesus was like all men, he’s saying Christ has a true human nature–a true man. And as a true man, Christ could suffer in your place. And as true man, Christ can sympathize with your struggles. Paul does not deny the true humanity of Jesus, but Paul is careful to suggest Christ is not exactly the same as other people. He is fully God and fully man. How low did Christ go?

STEP 5  Christ APPEARED like a man

Verse 8 continues,  “being found in appearance as a man

How was Christ different than regular men? In the New Testament we know . . .

First  Christ was SINLESS

Though tempted beyond what any man has ever experienced, Christ never did sin because He could not sin, being both God and man. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And Christ is also different than a regular man, because . . .

Second  Christ is GOD–TOTAL man and TOTAL God

In verses 6 and 7, Paul used the word “form” to describe Christ in nature is God and Christ in nature is a slave. But here, “appearance” in verse 8 means external shape–not actuality, but outward, changeable appearance. Paul is telling us what Christ appeared to be when people looked at Him. They saw the appearance of a man and nothing more. When Jesus was born in a stable, He looked and acted like any other baby. There was a star overhead, shepherds who saw the angels sing, but Jesus had no glow nor any halo, but God who was born as a sinless man.

Later they saw a regular rabbi. He appeared ordinary. They saw nothing to distinguish Christ physically. There was no aura indicating His unique, divine status as fully God, or as a member of the Trinity. There was only poverty, frailty, unpopularity, and rejection. The human eye could not see the deity beneath the veil of humanity. People could see only the veil of human nature. They saw only human normalcy–how low is that?

Here’s the God who created billions of galaxies–the all-powerful, sovereign God, now appearing as a man to all. Born from the womb of Mary on Christmas day. For God to forgive you of your sin, Christ as fully man could be the substitute for mankind. And Christ as fully God could satisfy the perfect demands of a holy God. Eternal God took a body and lived among us. Christ assumed human nature and lived as an infant, child, boy, youth, and man–fully human and fully divine.

The Philippians were fighting with each other, so Paul reminds them, Christ did not pursue any honor as a man. God lived as a normal guy. He appeared like a normal Rabbi. Christ took His place among the common people of the land. How low did Christ go?

STEP 6  Christ chose to HUMBLE Himself

Look at what Philippians 2:8 adds, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” at Christmas. In verse 6, Christ is equal to God and is God. And now in verse 8, Paul also displays Christ’s role of submissiveness and obedience to His Father in function. Look at the entire passage for a moment.

Verse 5, Paul commands the Philippians to think about Christ. Verse 6, major point #1, the pre-incarnate Christ “considered“–even though God, Christ didn’t insist on His rights as God. Verses 7 to 8, but Christ, major point #2, “emptied Himself” by doing three things–three participles explain Christ emptying Himself . 1) taking the form of a bond-servant, and 2) being made in the likeness of men, and 3) “being found in appearance as a man“. And now verse 8 gives us major point #3, Christ “humbled Himself.”

And do not miss the main emphasis in verse 8–Christ humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a criminal. How low did Christ go? Kenneth Wuest translates humbled Himself with, “He stooped very low.” Do you know God and do you know yourself? Paul did. That is why Paul said some harsh things about himself. As Paul looks at himself in AD 59, then AD 63, then AD 64, his self-awareness and self descriptions get worse.

As the years pass, Paul bows lower and lower–look. “I am the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) in AD 59. “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8) in AD 63. “I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) in AD 64. They that know themselves as sinners cannot be proud. They that know God as sinless will be humble. Sound theology will exalt God higher than before and sound theology will lower yourself lower than before.

Sir Winston Churchill understood humility. He was asked once, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know, every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?” He replied, “It’s quite flattering, but whenever I feel that way, I always remember if, instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.”

God elevates the humble, and God lowers the proud. James 4:6b, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” In verse 8, Christ humbled Himself. The verb humbled means to make small or little–then humble came to mean to assign to a lower place. And don’t miss this in verse 8–Christ chose humility. Jesus Christ pursued living low by being born at Christmas. How low did Christ go?

STEP 7  Christ was OBEDIENT

Philippians 2:8b adds, “by becoming obedient“. Verses 5 to 8 make some very dramatic statements. Christ is fully God in nature. Christ is fully man in nature. Christ in His ministry on Earth appeared to be a man, yet Christ was the God-man, the second person of the Trinity–fully God, but also obedient to the Father’s will in all things.

In the next line of this hymn, Paul describes humility as the resolute obedience of Christ. In verse 6, Paul described the decision of the preexistent Christ not to press for His rights as God. Now in verse 8, Paul describes the decision of the incarnate Jesus to obey His Father completely. What did Christ obey? Acts 2:23, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

Christ obeyed the Father and went to the cross–“Let this cup pass.” Christ demonstrated His humility, not by speaking softly, but by obedience to His Heavenly Father. Christ literally acted upon Himself to be continually obedient. The Greek has nothing to do with feelings, circumstances, or impressing others. Christ was obedient, and all genuine Christians are obedient. The New Testament is pointed in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Christ obeyed His Father–the example here is to humble oneself through obedience to your heavenly Father, regardless of how it looks to others or feels to you. Christ demonstrated humility through His obedience to God’s plan to bring salvation to His children. How low did Christ go?

STEP 8  Christ’s obedience had no LIMITS

Philippians 2:8 ends with how far Christ obeyed–see it? “To the point of death, even death on a cross.” We can only marvel at the Trinitarian relationship here. All three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, are one essence. Each person is fully and equally God. Yet the Son, in His incarnation at Christmas, submits to the Father. How deep is the Father’s love–a love where the Father requires His Son to be tortured and die for you? And how deep is the Son’s love? The Son willingly suffers and dies a criminal’s death in obedience to the Father.

This is the lowest step of all–willing obedience to the point of death helps us to understand the deep nature of love. Obedience is connected to love. Students, you don’t love your parents unless you obey them. Christian, you don’t love Christ unless you obey His Word. How low does obedience go?

First  Christ was obedient to the point of accepting DEATH

Christ didn’t have to die–no, Christ chose to die for His own children. Christ’s death was not for Himself, but for you. Christ’s death was vicarious, meaning for others–Jesus Christ did not need to die for Himself. He obeyed for you. He loved you. He died for you. His humility led to an obedience to the point of death–why? Sin separates you from God. And each of you have sinned. How many of you have lied at least once? How many were angry once? Stole? Lusted?

First Corinthians 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” And since the wages of sin is death, and the only away for you to become right with God would be for a perfect man to die in your place, and . . .

Second  Christ was obedient, accepting the death of a CRIMINAL

The concluding line of this hymn is, “even death on a cross.” This is the lowest rung on Christ’s ladder of humility. The conjunction δέ (even) has an intensive force, emphasizing the severity of Christ’s death. It was not a common death–it was a cross death. For the members of this Roman church in Philippi, this is striking–crucifixion was considered a barbaric and cruel form of execution to Romans. A cross death was exclusively reserved for rebellious foreigners, violent criminals and un-submissive slaves. Paul knew a cross death was so degrading to Romans, it could not be imposed on any Roman citizen.

And wake up–you and I have completely lost sight of the vileness of crucifixion. How do I know? We wear crosses as jewelry and decorate churches with crosses. A cross was a horror. The Prince of glory did not die on a shiny piece of gold. Giant nails were driven through arms and legs into a wooden cross, as flesh was torn and blood spattered. Christ’s crucifixion took place after an evening of hideous torture, then executed at the place of the skull. Christ’s death on a cross was on the basement floor of the humiliation building–you can’t travel any lower. Christ chose to humble Himself to this lowest level. Christ decided to humble Himself for you–all beginning at Christmas.

Can you get right with God on your own–can you do it? Answer–no, it’s impossible to become a Christian on your own. It is also impossible to live for Christ on your own. It’s impossible to overcome pride and live humbly on your own.

A  Then how can I BECOME a Christian?

Pray that the Lord would open your heart. Believe that Christ died in your place for your sins and rose from the dead to give you new life now and forever. Ask Him to empower you to turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ’s work and life by faith.

B  Then how can I live HUMBLY as a Christian?

Live dependent upon the Spirit of God only in obedience to the Word of God. As Christ is in you, seek to have Christ live through you for His glory. Christmas is Christ humbling Himself to demonstrate the very depths of His love and to prove to you that only God could provide salvation for those who are sick with sin and to provide power for believers to live a life like Christ’s.

The little baby born on Christmas was born to die for sin. For those in Christ, this life is the only Hell they will ever know. For those not in Christ, this life is the only Heaven they will ever know. What will you do with Christ? Let’s pray. Do you have Christ?

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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