Emptied Himself

What the Lord Jesus did to fulfill the eternal covenant of redemption is amazing. His choice to become human, to let go his rights, and to suffer on our behalf is more than we can imagine.

Philippians 2:5–11 – 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 emptied himself, by 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. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Look at what Jesus did. Verse 6 tells us that he did not count equality with God as a thing to be “grasped.” Verse 7 says that Jesus “emptied himself.” Those are huge concepts.

Jesus did not cling to or use to his benefit his equality with God. Though Jesus is God, eternally God, the Savior did not use that status while on earth to make things easy for himself. Instead of demanding his rights and using the power at his disposal, Jesus emptied himself. He did not stop being God. Instead, he simply set aside what he could have done in order to legitimately and really be human as well. Jesus lived as a man to save men from their sins.

Consider one simple picture of Jesus laying down his rights.

Matthew 4:3–4 – 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Jesus had gone as long as is humanly possible without food. He was hungry, weak, and in desperate need. And the devil came to Jesus to tempt him. The enemy suggested that Jesus no longer be emptied of himself as Philippians 2:7 says. The devil wanted Jesus to cling to his rights and use his power to satisfy his own desire.

But Jesus would not go along with the temptation from the serpent. He would not stop being truly human. Jesus would rest in the word of his Father and the provision from his Father. Jesus would not do things in any way other than the way that was planned by God for eternity.

The Lord Jesus, God the Son, became truly man. Jesus laid down his rights and took upon himself our weaknesses to save our souls. Jesus did not cling to his status as God, even if he never stopped being God. He lived a truly human life so as to truly identify with humanity. In doing so, Jesus fulfilled perfect human righteousness, satisfied the divine demand for perfection, fulfilled the covenant of works, and bought salvation for all the Father sent him to save.

The result of the stunning work of Jesus is that God the Father has exalted Jesus to the highest place. This is Jesus’ rightful place. The Father has lifted Jesus back to where Jesus belongs. And now Jesus reigns as King of kings forever.

At Christmas, we marvel at the child born in a manger. We sing of shepherds and wise men pointing to the promise of God. And this is good. May we also marvel at the infinite step down the Son of God took to become a real human. May we love that he emptied himself of his rights so as to fulfill the human righteousness we could never achieve. May we praise Jesus, the name above every name, the king above every king.

Terrifying and Welcoming

How do we know what God is like? We do not know from our personal experience and observation, at least not infallibly. Your experiences and mine are all questionable. We miss things and misinterpret things. But God has revealed himself perfectly in Scripture. And, of course, God revealed himself through the incarnation, life, and teaching of the Lord Jesus. This may well be one reason why Jesus is known as the “word” who is with God and who is God in John 1:1.

When you think of Jesus, what do you think of? In general, we immediately go to the gracious scenes. We think of children flocking to the Savior to sit on his knee and hug his neck. We think of Jesus smiling and turning water to wine to save a wedding from disaster. We think of Jesus walking on the sea and beckoning Peter to join him. We think of the disciples sharing a meal, reclining at table near to one another in fellowship. We think of Jesus healing and feeding and doing kindness.

And all of these are right thoughts about Jesus. All of these are right thoughts about who God is. God is love and loving. God is gracious and compassionate. God is faithful. God invites his people to come to him for soul satisfaction.

But let us not only see one part of the revelation of who God is.

Revelation 4:5a – From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder…

In Revelation 4, John gets a glimpse of God the Father on the throne of the universe, and that vision is literally awesome. He sees colors and beauty of such brilliance he can only describe the scene as similar to the beauty of the most precious stones he knew. He sees a scene of such authority that crowned elders fall on their faces as angels declare God to be “Holy, holy, holy.” And he sees a throne that sends forth thunder and lightning.

Just think of the lightning and rumblings of the throne in Revelation 4:5. What do they tell us? They show us that God is mighty. They show us that God’s power and judgments are terrifying. They show us that God is one we approach with caution.

The beauty is, the Father on the throne and the Son holding children are the same God. When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus’ response was, “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’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). The same Jesus who gently healed the sick and who had dinner with sinners is also the same Jesus whose eyes flashed with lightning as he stormed through the temple courts, overturning tables and driving out criminals.

As we think about the birth of the Savior and the celebration of Christmas, I think it would be wise for us to try to remember all that God is, as that will help us to be faithful as we celebrate the Savior. Jesus is loving and gentle. Jesus is holy and awesome. Jesus is one we can approach in humble surrender and know he will receive us by grace through faith. Jesus is the God whose throne flashes lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder. The one who became flesh is still the God who created the universe. So let us rejoice in him. Let us feel that warm joy of Christmas. And let us bow down and cry, “Holy!”

Two Unfamiliar Truths in a Familiar Prophecy

In Isaiah 7, the Lord presents to us a prophecy that we know well. We see it quoted in Matthew 1 and we think about it a lot at Christmas time. This is the prophecy regarding the virgin conceiving and bearing a son.

But I fear that many Christians are so far from knowing the history of Israel and Judah that they miss what the prophecy originally told us. That lack of knowledge for many opens us up to a couple of errors that can slip in and leave us vulnerable to attacks from those who would attempt to attack the faith.

First, the history. There are some simple facts you must have if you are going to understand the prophecy in its original context. The nation of Israel, the people of God, was divided into two nations around the year 930 BC. The northern kingdom, comprised of ten of the original 12 tribes of Israel, was often identified as Israel, Ephraim, or Joseph. The southern kingdom continued to be ruled by descendants of King David, and was known as Judah for the most part.

When Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz in the southern kingdom during the 8th century BC, Judah was being threatened by a combined force. The northern kingdom was allying with the nation of Syria to come and attack the southern kingdom. This was a major threat, and the king of the southern kingdom was terrified. But Isaiah came to tell Ahaz that this was not going to be a problem. Syria and Israel would not conquer Judah. The Lord would not let that happen. And, quite soon, God would bring the nation of Assyria into the picture to deal with both threats.

With all that in mind, read the prophecy now.

Isaiah 7:14-17

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

The prophecy is simple, but it uses an interesting illustration to show the king how short the time will be until the Lord fulfills his promise. For a moment, do not hang up on the word “virgin.”
A woman will be pregnant and have a child. Before that child is old enough to know between good and bad, the threat to the southern kingdom will be gone. So, within a couple of years, the thing that is terrifying the people of Judah is going to be wiped out by the sovereign hand of God working through the Assyrians. And, so you know, God did exactly what he promised.

Why is this important? There are two things we need to learn from this about the Bible and about interpreting prophecy that will protect us today. And, that is all beside the fact that we see, in this prophecy, that god, the Sovran One over all, is able to tell us exactly what the future holds and to use anyone he chooses to accomplish his will.

First, note that prophecy in the Old Testament can have more than one type of fulfillment. This prophecy had both an immediate and a future fulfillment. Isaiah’s words to King Ahaz were fulfilled in less than five years. A child was born. Before that child was old enough to make moral decisions, Judah was free from the threat of the Syrian and northern armies.

Second, in order to help us understand how that prophecy could be fulfilled in the years of Isaiah, we do need to know that the Hebrew word here translated “virgin” can mean simply young woman, and it does not have to imply physical virginity. In Isaiah’s case, it looks like the word is a reference to Isaiah’s wife whom we see have a son in Isaiah 8.

Wait! Does that mean that those who would attack the New Testament claim of the virgin birth have a leg to stand on? Nope. You see, even though this word is a word that could mean young woman in Hebrew, when Matthew wrote it in a citation of the prophecy, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, he used a word that means virgin in the way we understand and use it today—virgin, not just young woman. Plus, when you read the accounts of Matthew and Luke, there is no question whatsoever that these biblical authors are intending to communicate to us that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and literally born of a woman who was literally, physically a virgin. So, that Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14, a word with a broader semantic range, in no way speaks against the truth of the way that Matthew claims the prophecy with a Greek word with a more narrow semantic range. Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. And all this was by the miraculous working of our holy God.

When you understand the two facts I just mentioned, the Isaiah 7 prophecy and those who try to oppose its application to Jesus make far more sense. Prophecies can have an immediate and a later fulfillment. Isaiah spoke of his wife and, as we see in Matthew, of a virgin to arrive centuries later. And the glorious way that God inspired the prophecy makes it apply perfectly to both.