by Bob Wheeler
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.