Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: December, 2014


    So far in our series of meditations on Philippians 2:5-11 we have seen how our Lord willingly surrendered His position of honor and glory in heaven to come down to earth, and was “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8; NKJV). If that were all there were to it, it would have been a noble act with a tragic end, and nothing more. The story, however, does not end there, and it has, in fact, a happy ending. For our text goes on to say, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name . . .” (v. 9).

    Here it will be seen that by virtue of His obedience to the Father’s will Christ was promoted to the position of highest honor. He was given “the name which is above every name.” His “name” amounts to His honor and reputation. His name is “above every name” – in other words, even though He came to us in the form of a human being, He is to be honored and venerated by us above every created thing in the universe. He is, in fact, supposed to be the object of our worship: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (v. 10). The bending of the knee is a means of paying homage to someone in a superior position of authority. Furthermore, in this case, it is God’s will that every human being verbally confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord” (v. 11). He is not just our elected representative or our chosen leader; He is our absolute Lord and Master.

    Two things are worth noting in this connection. First of all, Christ has already been placed in this position of authority. The verbs are in the past tense (the aorist in the Greek): “God . . .has highly exalted Him and given Him the name.” Jesus currently occupies the position of authority, and the human race is obligated to acknowledge this fact now. Any refusal to do so is nothing less than rebellion.

    But in the immediate context of the passage it is especially significant that it says, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him . . .” (v. 9). The exaltation of Christ was the direct consequence of His humiliation. He was exalted precisely because he was willing to be humiliated. And this suggests several things. First of all the Father was evidently pleased with the sacrifice that His Son had made, and rewarded Him accordingly. Secondly, it suggests that Christ did not die in vain. His death was not a tragic waste of life, but a means to a greater end. He accomplished something through His death, and was rewarded accordingly. His incarnation, death and resurrection achieved a positive result – the salvation of multitudes of lost sinners.

    It should be borne in mind that Paul’s whole purpose in bringing up the subject of the incarnation was to reinforce the exhortation that he had made in verses 3 and 4: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” The cause of strife and conflict within the church is primarily psychological in nature: a combination of selfish ambition and overweening pride. How very different was the attitude of Christ, who was prepared to sacrifice Himself for our sakes, the perfect example of humility and love!

    As we reflect on the Christmas holiday just passed, should we not be moved by Christ’s example to adopt an attitude of love, self-sacrifice and humility?

“Who is this so weak and helpless,

Child of lowly Hebrew maid,

Rudely in a stable sheltered,

Coldly in a manger laid?

‘Tis the Lord of all creation,

Who this wondrous path hath trod;

He is God from everlasting,

And to everlasting God.”

        William Walsham How


    So far in our series of Christmas meditations we have considered Christ’s preincarnate glory and His incarnation and the enormous self-sacrifice on His part that He displayed. But as remarkable as that may seem, there was even more involved. For when Christ came into the world and was born in Bethlehem He know what lay ahead. He was conscious of the main purpose for His coming – and that was to die on the cross.

    Our text says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8; NKJV). This verse contains several propositions. First of all, it says that “He humbled Himself.” Even by ordinary human standards He was mistreated and abused. And yet, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Pet. 2:23). This must have taken a great deal of humility on His part – for the Son of God to be falsely accused and treated like a common criminal.

    Why did He allow these things to be done to Him? Because the Father wanted Him to – it was all a part of God’s plan of redemption and was necessary for our salvation and was necessary for our salvation. And so our text says He “became obedient” – He was subservient to His Father’s will.

    But not only was He humble and obedient, He was “obedient to the point of death.” Death is “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14). On the eve of His arrest and subsequent execution Jesus prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). The “cup” represents one’s appointed destiny – as if someone handed you a cup and required you to drink whatever was in it. In this case the “cup” was Jesus’ impending death on the cross – a particularly painful, cruel and ignominious way to die. One could hardly conceive of a greater personal sacrifice. Yet Jesus did it anyway, and He did it for us.

    Peter, who personally witnessed Christ’s sufferings on the cross, draws the implication for Christian believers: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps’ (I Pet. 2:21).

    Would we be willing to suffer persecution, should it come our way?


    In our last blog post we noted that Christ had enjoyed a blissful existence in heaven from all eternity – uninterrupted communion with the Father, honor and glory for Himself, and an existence free from all the troubles and woes of earthly life. But God the Son did not stay in heaven. The marvel of Christmas is that the Son of God condescended to come down to earth in human form and dwell among us. He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7; NKJV).

    When we look at a manger scene we are liable to think that the whole episode was charming and idyllic. But what did it mean for Christ? Our text says that He “made Himself of no reputation.” The Greek says simply that He “emptied Himself,” and that has engendered a great deal of theological discussion. A stanza in a well-known hymn by Charles Wesley puts it like this:

        “He left His Father’s throne above,

         So free, so infinite His grace!

         Emptied Himself of all but love,

         And bled for Adam’s helpless race.”

What the text itself tells us is that Christ took “the form of a bondservant . . . coming in the likeness of men.” On the one hand He gave up all the special honors and prerogatives He had enjoyed in heaven. On the other hand when He was born in that stable in Bethlehem He was, to all outward appearances, an ordinary human baby born in the humblest of circumstances, with an earthly human mother who cared for Him in the same way that any human mother would care for her newborn infant.

    But for Jesus it meant even more than that. It meant that He was, in effect, taking on the role of a servant – “taking the form of a bondservant” is the way our text puts it. (The Greek uses the common word for “slave” – a person who is owned by someone else and has few rights of his own). As the Son of God Jesus is entitled to our devotion and service. We human beings are supposed to be subservient to God. But when, in the incarnation, Jesus took on the form of a human being, He placed Himself in the position of subservience. He went from being the Master to being the slave. He went from giving the orders to taking the orders. It was a transition that is hard for us to fathom.

    But even more than that the incarnation meant having to live here in this sin-cursed world. Imagine a wealthy person, born to privilege and luxury, going to live in a crime-ridden, rat-infested ghetto. Imagine the utter revulsion that someone would feel in that situation. And then imagine what it must have been like for the holy Son of God to come down to earth and live amid all the moral squalor and degradation that mars human existence. He must have been revolted by what He witnessed on a daily basis. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10,11).

    It was an extraordinary act of condescension on His part. And it was an act that should inspire in us the willingness to serve others, without grumbling or complaint.


Lorenzo di Credi, "The "Annunciation"

Lorenzo di Credi, “The “Annunciation”

  This is the time of year when the Western world celebrates Christmas. But what exactly is it that we are celebrating? The snow and the sleigh ride? The candles and holly? Or is it the birth of the babe in Bethlehem? And more to the point, who exactly was this babe in Bethlehem?

    If Jesus were just an ordinary human being His birthday would hardly be worth noting. There have been thousands of great men and women down through history whose birthdays we have entirely forgotten. But what the angel told Mary was extraordinary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35; NKJV). Jesus was no ordinary human being, and His birth marks a decisive turning point in history.

    In a remarkable passage of Scripture the apostle Paul reflected on who Jesus was and His significance for us today. The passage in question is Philippians 2:5-11. Paul is urging the Philippian believers to treat each other with humility and love, and he points to Christ as the preeminent example. What Christ did in coming into the world was, in fact, unparalleled in history.

    Let us begin by considering the position Christ was in before He came into the world. Our text tells us that He was “in the form of God” and was “equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). To understand what this means practically speaking consider the following. First of all, it meant that from all eternity Christ enjoyed uninterrupted communion with God the Father. John tells us that Jesus was “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18), signifying a deeply close and personal relationship. Jesus Himself said that “the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does . . .” (John 5:10).

    Moreover in heaven Jesus was fully recognized and honored as the Son of God. Jesus could pray in the garden, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Even now in heaven every creature says “Blessing and honor and glory and power / Be to Him who sits on the throne, / And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13). God the Son occupied a position of preeminence second only to that of the Father Himself.

    And, of course, it goes without saying that in heaven Jesus led an existence that was completely free from all the misery and woe that characterizes human life here on earth. There is no temptation or sin, sickness or disease, no poverty, no natural disasters, no pain or sorrow of any kind. God’s will is always done there (Matthew 6:10) and “neither moth and rust destroys” and “thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

    All of this Jesus enjoyed without interruption. And yet our text says that He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” or, as it might be translated, “a thing to be grasped” (ASV, RSV, NASV, ESV). The idea here is that Jesus did not hang on to His position as a piece of prized booty, but was willing to forego all of it for our sakes. And this Paul cites as the preeminent example of selfless devotion to the greater good.

    If Christ was willing to do that for us, shouldn’t we be willing to do as much for each other?