Message – He emptied Himself by taking
During the Christmas season my mind always seems to turn to the miracle of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, Co-eternal as part of the Tri-unity of God, become man.
Perhaps it is my years of loving the music and rhyme of Michael Card, but I believe the incarnation is something best framed by paradox.
- The Infinite contained in the finite.
- The Creator now created.
- The Owner, Himself now owned.
- The Cause, becoming the effect.
- The Life, becoming One dependent for life.
- The One Who emptied Himself, by taking
There is simply no end to the paradoxical musings of the advent, but perhaps the most beautiful paradox is captured in a Name. A name which is descriptive of all the answer to all of man’s troubles… Emmanuel – God with us! That the Living Word, co-eternal with Abba & the Spirit, became a human baby boy.
It seems not only a paradox, but an outright impossibility for someone to empty themselves by taking something to themselves, but that is precisely what happened when Jesus was born a human baby boy!
What I hope to reveal in this teaching is not only the miracle of His birth but what that miracle tells us about Who He is!
The scriptures, if properly studied, do not allow us a view of Christ which reduces Him solely to being a man nor elevates Him to the sheer purity of His Deity.
What the scriptures reveal is God wrapped in flesh. In His humanness He was still fully God.
So often i’ve heard it taught that when Jesus became a man He left something in heaven. Some say he left His diety, some say He left His glory others say He left His power… so imagine my surprise to learn that the scriptures do not support any of these.
So far as we can see, that is to say so far as the scriptures reveal Him, He retained all the attributes of His former state, only it was veiled by the incarnation from the eyes of men.
If those who knew and walking with Him were to see Him for Who He truly was, they had to see with more than natural human eyes and that is still true today.
After asking His disciples one day who people thought He was, they offered various answers in accordance with current rumors. Then He asked them point blank…“But who do you say that I am?”
Up to this point they were altogether uncertain, but Peter saw Who He really was and was blessed as a result, for Abba Himself had revealed it to him…
“Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven.” – Matt. 16:17
This is not to say that the disciples did not know Jesus was special, but up until this point, to them, He was still just a man.
A prophet, yes even a great prophet, but to them He was just a man.
This was even true in the face of miracles the likes of which they had never dreamed possible nor read in all their holy writings. For when Jesus rebuked the waves and the wind on the sea, they marveled and said, “What manner of man is this that even the waves and the wind obey Him?”
Notice the pronoun…“man”.
It wasn’t that they wondered if He were a mere human, they wondered at what kind of a man He could be Who carried such authority.
To them, Jesus was entirely enigmatic and unique, and now, some 2000 years later we are no less at a loss to capture or comprehend the wonder of all He is.
Our study begins in THE chapter concerning the incarnation found in Philippians 2:5-8. It is perhaps one of the most satisfying studies in all of scripture, for it speaks to and reveals the very person and nature of our Lord and Savior!
Phil. 2: 5-8,
“(5) Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, (6) Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. (7) Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, (8) He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death–even to death on a cross.”
Lets look a little closer at some of the key words in this passage.
existing: This is from the ancient Greek verb huparchein, which “describes that which a man is in his very essence and which cannot be changed. It describes that part of a man which, in any circumstances, remains the same.” (Barclay)
Form: This translates the ancient Greek word morphe. It “always signifies a form which truly and fully expresses the being which underlies it . . . the words mean ‘the being on an equality with God.'” (Expositors)
come as a man: schema has to do with the outward appearance which is subject to change.
“Morphe is the essential form which never alters; schema is the outward form which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance.” (Barclay)
Wuest explains that the ancient Greek word translated form is very difficult to translate. When we use the word form we think of the shape of something; but the ancient Greek word had none of that idea. It is more the idea of a mode or an essence.
So in this passage it represents the essential nature of God, without implying a physical shape or image. “Thus the Greek word for ‘form’ refers to that outward expression which a person gives of His inmost nature.”
It is the perfect expression of a perfect essence. It is not something imposed from without, but something which proceeds from the very depth of the perfect being, and into which that being unfolds, as light from fire.”
The Greek word for “form” refers to that outward expression which a person gives of his inmost nature. This expression is not assumed from the outside, but proceeds directly from within.
To illustrate: If we were to say, “I went to a tennis match yesterday. The winning player’s form was excellent.” We mean by that, that the outward expression he gave of his inward ability to play tennis, was excellent. The expression in this case took the form of the rhythmic, graceful, swift, and coordinated movements of his body and its members.
In this text, our Lord is revealed as being in the form of God. The word “God” is without the definite article in the Greek text, and therefore refers to the actual Divine essence. What this means is that our Lord’s outward expression of His inmost being was the divine essence of Deity.
These are not small peripheral issues to the gospel but share center stage with Jesus being born, being Lord and Savior. In fact, without His being deity, none of the rest would be possible or even matter.
The word Equal ísos means alike in quantity, quality, dignity.
Guzik says, “To be equal with God: It wasn’t that Jesus was trying to achieve equality with the Father. He had it, and chose not to cling to it. Jesus’ divine nature was not something He had to seek for or acquire, but it was His already.”
Lightfoot wrote that it was not “a prize which must not slip from His grasp, a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards.” Jesus was willing to let go of some of the prerogatives of Deity to become a man.
We now consider the words, “made himself of no reputation.”
Instead of asserting His rights as God, He willingy relinquished them. No words could ever capture what Jesus did here. What the Trinity conspired together to allow.
God…the boundless and infinite Creator, became limited, incarcerated in flesh and therefore finite.
It would be quite impossible for us to even imagine such sacrifice and this was only His birth. He still had to live a life, die and rise again. What an amazing Savior and God we have…oh, how He loves!
The words “made Himself of no reputation” are the translation of two Greek words which literally translated mean, “emptied Himself.”
Now this is the tricky part and it should be understood that these verses are no easy things to translate. So before we address the question as to what our Lord emptied Himself of, we must examine the words, “and took upon Him the form of a servant.”
Oh this is SUCH a rich passage!
The word “form” is from the same Greek word that we studied a moment ago in verse six.
The word “servant” is the translation of the Greek word which Paul used in Philippians 1:1 to describe himself as a bondslave.
The word “took” is an aorist participle. A rule of Greek grammar says that the action of an aorist participle precedes the action of the leading verb. The leading verb here is “emptied.”
So what does that mean?
It means that the act of Jesus taking on flesh, preceded the act of emptying Himself and in fact WAS TO CAUSE of the emptying. Now this is VERY important in that it indirectly teaches us vast volumes about our Lord and Savior.
The translation so far could read, “emptied Himself, having taken the form of a bondslave.” or more clearly, “by taking the form of a bondslave He emptied Himself.”
What do the words, “having taken the form of a bondslave” mean?
The word “form,” you remember, referred to the outward expression one gives of his inward being.
The words “form of a bondslave” therefore means that our Lord gave outward expression to His inmost nature of being a bondslave. However, the words “having taken“ tell us that that expression was not true of Him beforeHis incarnation, although the desire to serve others is without question part of His nature as Deity.
While expressing Himself as a bondslave “come to serve”, He necessarily exchanged one form of expression for another.
Interestingly enough, the incarnation is the direct opposite of what took place at the Transfiguration.
Let’s turn to Matt. 17:2,
“He was transformed in front of them, and His face shone like the sun. Even His clothes became as white as the light.”
There we have the same Word “form” used, but with a prefixed preposition trans- signifying a change.
We could translate it “And the mode of His outward expression was changed before them, and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light”.
Our Lord’s usual mode of expression while on earth previous to His resurrection was that of a servant. He said, “The son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
But here at the mount of transfiguration, His outward expression as a servant momentarily ceased, and Who He truly had always been and never stopped being He gave outward expression to – that of the glory of God.
In our Philippian passage that we are looking at, the change of expression is reversed. The Glory of Who He truly was, was veiled by the flesh He took on!
Instead of giving outward expression of His deity, He gives outward expression of His humility in becoming the servant of mankind. The expression of His Diety was set aside so that the the expression of His humility could become a fact.
Vincent says in this connection: “This form, not being identical with the divine essence, but dependent upon it, and necessarily implying it, can be parted with or laid aside. Since Christ is one with God, and therefore a pure being, of absolute existence, He can exist without the external “form” of His Deity. This form of God, Christ laid aside BY TAKING on His incarnation.”
Both expressions came from our Lord’s nature, His act of glorifying Himself and His act of humbling Himself. Both are constituent elements of the essence possessed by the Triune God.
It is imperative that we realize that He did not empty Himself of His Deity, which fact was made clear when Paul said “Who being very nature God”.
He set aside the outward expression of His deity BY expressing Himself as a bondslave.
When our Lord set aside the expression of Deity in order that He might express Himself as a bondslave, He was setting aside His legitimate and state and prerogatives as Deity… two of the expressions of which is power & glory!
The pronoun “Himself” is in the accusative case. The action of the verb terminates in the thing expressed by that case.
What this means in practical terms is that His act of taking on flesh, terminated the natural outward expression of His real nature – that of Diety!
Our Lord emptied Himself of the outward expression and form of “self” a.k.a. His Deity BY TAKING ON FLESH.
This agrees perfectly with the context which is an example of humility and self-abnegation for the benefit of others. This setting aside of Self by the Son of God was the example that Paul held before the saints at Philippi. An example Paul expected them to emulate.
If each one would set self aside, then unity would prevail.
This is SO important because Jesus did not (and could not) become “less God” in the incarnation. No deity was subtracted from Him (though He did renounce some of the rights of deity and outward expressions of deity); rather humanity was added to His nature. This is not to make uncertain claims for we know that the prophet said of the Messiah,
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.” ~ Isa. 7:14-16
However, this may have only been during His childhood and may have been something He had to actively resist relying upon as He grew in knowledge.
Regardless, we are not certain and will therefore make no certain claims, but other than the advantage of omniscience and former glory, we know of no verifiable attribute of His former state of which He was lacking throughout the incarnation. This was NOT because He could NOT use them, for they were part of Him. He had to make a conscious decision to NOT draw from His Own Power and Godhead and instead choose to rely completely upon the Spirt and the Father for all knowledge, insight and power. Without THEM He could do nothing!
As odd as it sounds to us – The Living Word did not become less by becoming man, in terms of the sum of His parts, he became more.
For before His incarnation He was God, after His incarnation He was BOTH God & man!
But the story does not end here.
There are clues in scripture which seem to point to a future where Jesus, though still God – for that CANNOT change, never stops being human. Perhaps one of the most telling is found in 1Cor. 15:25-28…
“(25) For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. (26) The last enemy to be abolished is death. (27) For He has put everything under His feet. But when it says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. (28) And when everything is subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all.”
So when all things are finished and the kingdom of God has been fully secured through the final defeat of all of its enemies, Jesus will turn and surrender the kingdom over to His Father and ours so that the kingdom my be in the hands of He Who is ONLY God and not God and man. This is proper, for the kingdom of God is God’s. Though we are in it and it is given to us, we are the benefactors not the owners or controllers. The relationship of creation to Creator, of branches to our Vine never ceases or becomes obsolete. We will NEVER be a source in ourselves, we will always draw our life from our union with Him, which was made possible, when Jesus…the eternal and living Word, emptied Himself by taking on Flesh!
Worship the Lord today in these truths!