The following sermon might be useful to help leaders prepare for the Gospel Project, Session 9.
The Sacrifice of Christmas
Speaker: Travis Peterson
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,£ 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,£ being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
One of the difficult aspects of preparing a Christmas themed message is that it is hard to look at the stories of the birth of the Christ and ask you to imitate His characteristics. In many narrative passages of scripture, stories like we read this morning, we will see the actions of a character or set of characters and will be encouraged either to behave like them or not like them depending on their behavior. A funny thing is, in the Christmas story, I can’t really call upon you to have children in stables, to invite shepherds to your child’s first night, or to expect wise men to visit your home shortly after a new star appears in the sky. Thus, many Christmas messages remind us of the details surrounding the Christ’s birth without giving us something to go home and try to put into practice.
Tonight, I want to change that. I want us to look at the birth of the Christ from a different angle than we often do. Tonight, we will marvel at the greatness of the sacrifice of Jesus’ incarnation, His becoming human. We will then be challenged by God to imitate that sacrifice in our own lives. In fact, the call to imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice is exactly the point Paul makes in the first verse of our passage for tonight.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
In this verse of scripture, Paul calls upon the Philippians to have a mindset in them that was also evident in Christ. Oddly enough, this attitude is plainly displayed in Jesus’ incarnation.
Before we look at that, let us take just a moment to see the context of this passage. Paul is writing to the church in Philippi with an express purpose to stop some of her internal conflicts. In chapter 2, verses 1-4, he has called upon the people to be more selfless toward one another, to consider others more important than themselves, to look out for others’ interests more than their own. Paul is calling upon these people to live differently than we tend to live in our world. We are taught to fight for our rights and to not allow others to have what should be ours. Paul is telling them to forget their own personal rights, and to fight for the well-being of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is following this exhortation that Paul calls upon the Philippians to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. What was so special about Christ’s attitude? Well, before we even look at the verses to follow, I will let you know that the life of Jesus was the perfect example of self-sacrifice and humility. This is why Paul uses Jesus’ life as the example for how the Philippians ought to live in order to put their conflicts to rest.
As we look forward into the passage, we will see Paul explain the humble sacrifice of Christ that is not actually limited to the cross, but which began with the incarnation. Paul draws out this example by citing the lyrics of what many scholars believe to be a first century hymn on the same topic. Let us look at verse six, and we will see what this attitude of Jesus was.
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
In this verse we learn about Jesus’ nature as well as His behavior. The first thing that we see is that Jesus was in form, or in very nature, God. What does that mean? It means that everything about Jesus from before the dawn of time until the ultimate end of eternity is God. Jesus has always existed, and He has always existed as God. John 1:1, referring to Jesus, says “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Jesus did not become God at some point. His deity has been established from eternity past.
The Bible teaches us the doctrine of God as a holy trinity. God, though one God, has revealed himself to us as three distinct persons. These three persons are the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. These three are co-eternal and co-equal. All three are God. They are distinct in their personhood, and yet are not three Gods but one.
Jesus is God the Son. He is referred to as the second person of the trinity. He is just as much God as the Father and as the Holy Spirit. While He is distinct from the Father and Holy Spirit, He is also one with the Father and Holy Spirit. All three persons of the trinity are one God, and have one essence or substance. While this takes us into depths of theology that can make our heads throb, it is important that we understand that Jesus is fully divine.
Being fully divine, Jesus has had, for all of eternity, all of the attributes of God. Jesus is all powerful, all glorious, all perfect. He is worthy of all the worship and adoration that we attach to the Father, for He and the Father are one. AS Jesus said in . . .
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Put another way, anyone who has seen Jesus has seen God. Thus, any response that we make to Jesus is the response that we make to God Himself.
Next, Paul says that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. While there are two interpretations for this phrase, both lead us to the same conclusion as the passage continues. One view is that Jesus did not consider equality with God something He needed to grasp simply because He is God, and one does not grasp for what one already has. The other view is that Jesus did not cling to His status as God like one might cling to a treasure. This is true too, since one does not cling to what one can never lose. In either case, we see that the deity of Christ is at the forefront of the mind of Paul. We must remember Jesus’ status as God in order to see the attitude displayed in His life which Paul describes beginning in verse 7.
but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,£ being born in the likeness of men.
Now we begin to understand the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice as displayed years before the cross. Jesus “made himself nothing.” The other uses of this word in the scriptures tend to refer to words being made void, as in a promise or boast made empty by lack of fulfillment. Another way to say this might be that Jesus “emptied himself” or “poured himself out” in the same way that you might empty a pitcher. The picture here in the scriptures is that the Son of God, by His own choice, greatly and dramatically lowered Himself.
How did Jesus “empty Himself” or “make Himself nothing?” It is by becoming a man. Jesus, while never relinquishing His equality with the Father and Holy Spirit, took what we must see as in infinite step downward. He stepped out of the throne room of heaven, and allowed Himself to take on the form of a human being, thus the “being found in appearance as a man” phrase. In doing so, He subjected Himself to the will of His Father, a person with whom He is co-equal. However, as the Son incarnate, Jesus had no authority to do anything on His own as He says in . . .
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father£ does, that the Son does likewise.”
Jesus veiled the infinite glory with which He had been robed for eternity by covering it with human flesh. He stepped out of a life as the King and Ruler of all the Universe and became a simple peasant. He, the only self-existent being in all the universe, made Himself dependant on a teenage peasant woman to carry Him, give birth to Him, feed Him at her breast, and change His diapers.
The profound mystery in this is that Jesus never stopped being God and truly became human. This event is not a slide of hand trick. This is not looking like something while being something else. Jesus was and is absolutely fully human. He had all the needs that any human has. He was hungry, felt pain, sneezed, cried, laughed, ate, drank, used the bathroom, slept, and did everything a normal human man does. The only difference in Jesus and your average human man was the fact that Jesus never sinned. At the same time, Jesus never became less than God. He was fully God and fully man. While this is hard to understand, you might think of it in the same category as the trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are 3 and 1 at the same time. In the same way, Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.
Even though Jesus was fully God, the fully man part of the equation is an incredible sacrifice. He was worthy of the worship of all the people around him, but all they could see was a little baby boy in a manger. He was powerful enough to speak and create the universe out of nothing, and all the people saw was the carpenter’s kid. He was the only perfect and wise being to ever exist, and the religious of his day looked down upon Him as a sinner and a fool.
Can you imagine what it must be like to set aside your rights in this way? Not even looking at the next verse, we already can see that Jesus undertook the most self-sacrificial act humanity has ever known when He stepped out of heaven and into the virgin’s womb. IF you imagined the king of a vast empire voluntarily laying aside his crown and robes and working as a slave in the sweatshops, you might get a picture of what this looked like. If you imagine the wealthiest man in the world giving away his money and living as a homeless person, you might have the beginnings of this level of sacrifice. The problem is that the action done by Jesus is infinitely greater, since Jesus is infinitely more powerful than any king and infinitely more wealthy than any businessman.
Amazingly, though the sacrifice of Jesus’ incarnation is incredible, He continues to sacrifice.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Now we see what we have always viewed as Jesus’ sacrifice. He humbled Himself even further, if that is possible, by becoming obedient even to the point of death. Jesus, as a man who never sinned and who had no sin nature, did not in any way deserve to die. Death, as is clear in Genesis 3, entered our world as a response to and punishment for sin. Jesus, who had never sinned, had absolutely no reason to die for Himself. However, in obedience to his Father’s will and out of love for humanity, Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to death.
As the passage states, the death that Jesus submitted Himself to was no ordinary death. He did not agree to die of old age or instantly and painlessly. Jesus suffered the death of crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers. These soldiers were experts, not only in dealing out death, but in finding new and profound ways of prolonging and increasing the pain of death. This death was painful and drawn out. It was also humiliating. The death of the cross allowed passersby to mock the condemned person as he hung naked and vulnerable before them. All of this is what the Son of the most high God submitted Himself to voluntarily.
With all of the above understood, we still have not reached the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Not only was He physically and emotionally suffering, He was spiritually suffering. The Bible tells us in . . .
2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The idea that Jesus would actually suffer the wrath of Almighty God for our sin is too much to imagine. IN a moment on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself an infinite amount of punishment that you and I could not completely suffer in an eternity. God the Father actually looked at Jesus as sin—He became sin for us—in order that He might fully punish Jesus for sins that He never committed. Thus, He allowed Himself to be lowered to as low as is possible, and He came there from the highest point of glory possible.
Thus we see that the sacrifice of the life of Christ is absolutely amazing. It is amazing because of the fact that He is God, and lowered Himself to the position of man. As man, He made Himself to be perfectly obedient to the commands of His Father in heaven. As a perfectly obedient man, He lowered himself to the position of suffering for sin and allowed Himself to die in our place. This sacrifice all starts with the incarnation. We must never separate the beauty of Christmas from the horror of the cross. They go hand in hand, and one means nothing without the other.
Now, let us look at the remainder of the text in order that we might see how God the Father responded to His Son’s sacrifice both in incarnation and on the cross.
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
While there is much to be said about these final 3 verses, We will only take a moment to look at the overall point. God the Father was pleased with the humble obedience of God the Son. Jesus, who as we have already stated is equal in every way to the Father, made Himself obedient to the Father’s will. He lowered Himself to the lowest possible level. He sacrificed His life and His rights for the will of the Father and the salvation of humanity
How great was the Father’s pleasure with the Son? The bible tells us that, because of the Son’s self-sacrificial obedience, the Father exalted the Son to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name. Jesus, who was lowered to the lowliest state that was possible and who took an infinite step downward to become man, was exalted above all others in the universe. Jesus was lifted back up to the place where He deserved to be for all of eternity, and this brought glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One thing we can learn from this event in history is that God is pleased when we live a sacrificial and obedient life. Remember that Paul said that our attitude should be the same as that of Christ. Now we see that this attitude is one of self-sacrifice. Jesus gave up His rights in order to be obedient to the Father and to help the lost. WE too should be willing to give up our rights and sacrifice ourselves in order to obey our God and serve others. IF we do this, we will please and bring glory to our God.
So, as we look back at this passage, what are we to take away from the study? Theologically, we must remember that Jesus took part in an infinite sacrifice, not only on the cross, but also in his incarnation. The fact that Jesus would step out of heaven and into humanity should be cause for us to marvel. AS we approach Christmas, let us take time to pause and remember the greatness of this loving sacrifice.
Next, let us remember, as we think of Jesus’ sacrifice on Christmas, that it led to the sacrifice of Jesus on Good Friday. Jesus did not remain an infant. He did not stay in the manger. Rather, He grew and lived a perfect life. He pleased His Father in everything that He did. Then, He allowed himself to be abused by evil men. He suffered and died. He took upon Himself the guilt for the sin of all humanity. He died, but was raised to life again. We must not separate the birth of Christ on Christmas from the death and resurrection of Christ which we celebrate on Easter.
Finally, we must also recognize that selfless and sacrificial love as demonstrated in Christ pleases God. We must learn to put on the same attitude as Christ. We must learn to let go of our own rights and our own self-importance in order to love and serve God and others. That attitude will bring God joy in us, and will glorify Him. We will then be satisfied as God is glorified in our lives.