There are some things that human words and media, just do not have the ability to fully convey. For example, our secretary Dana just visited Niagara Falls with her husband. She said so it was just so incredible. I’ve never been, but I assume that like the Grand Canyon it’s indescribable — several of us were talking at church the other day about visiting the Grand Canyon, and one of the things we talked about is how you just can’t “capture” it — you just stand there in total amazement and awe, and you pick up your camera and try to get a shot of it — but no picture you can take even comes close to the reality of what you are seeing. You can can’t capture the full glory of that live experience in any photograph.
That is somewhat the way I feel as we come to our passage for today from Philippians 2. This may be the most powerful and glorious set of scriptures in all the Bible, as it describes who Jesus is, and what He did for us. But human words are not adequate to expound it; certainly mine aren’t. I think of the old hymn that speaks of “this poor lisping, stammering tongue” — and that’s the way you feel when you try to convey the unconveyable. But we’ve got to at least try to get a better understanding about what Jesus did for us. So let’s look at this classic passage for a few minutes, which describes the Condescension of Jesus, and the Glory it brought Him — which is our model as we follow Him.
I. The Heights of His Glory
“who, although He existed in the form of God …”
Last week I re-read one of my very favorite books, Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, in which Twain goes on a steamship tour of Europe and the Holy Land in 1867 and writes all about the classic sites he sees (mostly poking fun at everything, as was his style). But when he arrived in the Holy Land, it was actually a very sobering experience for him. He wrote in his journal, that as he walked in the Holy Land, it was a strange and awesome thing for him to walk where the steps of a God had been. And he was right. It was indeed GOD who came to earth in Jesus Christ. And for us to begin to comprehend the depths of the condescension of what He for us, we first have to get some understanding of the glory that He LEFT to do it.
And the first thing we need to understand is that Jesus was and is GOD. That’s what this passage leads off with: “Who, although He existed in the form of GOD.” Now, this word “form” is translated in various ways in our Bibles, but it means the very “essence” or nature. Jesus wasn’t just “like” God, or just “appear” to be God, He was in His very nature and essence, GOD! It’s just like Colossians 2:9 says, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells …”. The Bible makes it very clear here, Jesus was and is GOD!
This is what SO many people just don’t get. They think of Jesus as a prophet like Muhammad, or a wise teacher like Confucius, and sometimes you’ll hear their names mentioned together, as if they were all equals. But they are not equals. Those men never claimed to be God. But the Bible overall, and the words of Jesus Himself, clearly assert that He is GOD who came to earth. “He existed in the form (the essence/the nature) of GOD.”
We see some hints of what that means in places like John 17, where Jesus is getting ready to RETURN to heaven and the Father: In :5 of that great prayer Jesus asks: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Here Jesus makes an incredibly strong statement: that He shared the glory of God in Heaven before the world was created. So before creation; before “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;” Jesus the Son of God shared the glory of heaven with God the Father.
Jesus was not a created being. John 1 says He was “in the beginning” with God, and was God. And goes on to say: “all things that came into being, have come into being” through Him. He Himself never “came into being.” He brought all things that DID “come into being,” into being. In other words, He created everything that has been made. When we say “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth, we are talking about Jesus.” Jesus was and is God.
And as if the statement that “He existed in the form of God” was not enough; the next phrase in :6 really nails it down. It say: “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Did you get that phrase: “EQUALITY WITH GOD”?! When you are equal with God, you are what? GOD! You couldn’t say it any more clearly.
Jesus wasn’t just some person who was born, and did some notable things here on earth, and died and went to heaven. Jesus was in the beginning with God, He was “equal with God,” God Himself. And as God Himself, in all the glory of heaven, He chose to come down to earth to suffer all that He did. It was GOD who humbled Himself and did what He did for us. See, the heights from which He came, just magnify for us the depths to which He descended, in order to save us.
It’s like when Cheryl & I were staying at a hotel on the way back from helping our son Michael move in South Carolina. After I had checked in, the clerk at the desk asked if I’d like a couple of bottles of water to take to the room with us. I said “yes,” and he went back and brought them to us. I thought it was really “nice” that the clerk did that. But it would have another level entirely, had it been the Chairman of the Board of that hotel chain, who ran back to get me that bottle of water. Not just “some employee;” but the Chairman himself. If HE had done that, the whole thing would have taken on an entirely different level of significance, wouldn’t it? The heights from which he came, magnify the depths of the humility and service.
And so it is with Christ. It is amazing enough what He did for us in His condescension and death on the cross (which we’ll look at in just a moment) but when you realize that He was fully GOD, in nature and essence, that it was GOD HIMSELF who did this for us — can you see how that puts the whole thing on another level entirely?! The Heights of His glory mean so much here.
II. The Depth of His Condescension
“… did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In this second part of this scripture song of Christ’s salvation, we see that He was not only “fully God,” but that He humbled Himself and became “fully man” in order to die for us and purchase our salvation.
This really gets deep. Jesus, God the Son, fully, 100% God, became fully, 100% Man in the Incarnation. We simply cannot fathom the humiliation and condescension it took for God Himself to become a man. To “condescend” literally means to “go down, with” someone. And this passage describes step by step the amazing condescension of Jesus in His incarnation, descending lower and lower from His glorious state, into more and more unfathomable humiliation and suffering on our behalf.
Dante describes in his famous “Inferno” how the poet Virgil appeared to him and took him on a tour of the “inferno” — hell. One step at a time they descended, lower and lower into the abyss of hell. In the same way, this passage in Philippians describes how Jesus went step by step, further and further down in humiliation and condescension for us.
Let’s look at how this passage describes JESUS’ STEPS OF CONDESCENSION” — each one lower than the next.
— First, it says He “emptied Himself.” Remember, He was fully God in heaven; the angels had to cover their faces before His glory, so the first thing He had to do to step down towards us was to “empty” Himself of that glory, and while still remaining God, voluntarily limit Himself of the powers of His Deity when He was on earth. Theologians call this the “kenosis,” the emptying of Himself. This self-limiting of His glory and power would have been an incredible condescension in itself, had He done nothing else. But the Bible says He did take it further:
— “being made in the likeness of men”. Not only did He empty Himself of His glory, He also humbled Himself to become a man — a real flesh & blood man. We can’t begin to comprehend that: to us would be like agreeing to become an ant or some vile insect, way beneath ourselves — only infinitely more humiliating for Glorious God to become a man! We can’t even fathom it.
— THEN: had Jesus came from heaven to become the greatest, richest, most glorious King in human history, it would have been a condescension that beggars our imagination! But the Bible says He took yet another step down and not only become “a man”, but He became “a bond servant” — a slave, a lowly man. Glorious God became a slave to men, and allowed Himself to be ordered about, beaten, humiliated and spat upon.
— But He took another step further down yet — an incredible one! Not only did He become a servant of a man, He humbled himself “to the point of death”, and submitted Himself to DIE! God the Son allowed Himself to be killed by these inferior creatures He created!
— And not only did He humble Himself “to die,” but He stepped even lower to die “EVEN death on a cross” — crucifixion is widely considered to be possibly the worst, most humiliating, most painful, most torturesome death mankind has ever devised.
So you see how step by step Jesus condescended lower and lower:
— emptying Himself of His glory as God
— the humiliation of becoming a man at all;
— then not just “a” man, but a servant of a man
— then the incredible step of DYING as a man
— and not “only” dying, but the most humiliating and painful death imaginable, at the cross …
The steps Jesus took in His condescension for us just took Him lower and lower and lower … to go from the heights of His glory, to the depths of His sacrifice for our sins, is literally unimaginable to us. We can’t begin to understand what He did. It’s like getting that shot of the Grand Canyon; it’s too vast; it’s too glorious; you can’t capture it; you can’t take it in … it is literally inconceivable that GOD would die for US!
Some of you may have seen the video that went viral this week on the internet of the girl in California who pushed a huge bear off the wall in her back yard, to protect her dogs who were in the yard below. People alternately thought she was either very courageous or very foolish – but I thought it was interesting what she said later in an interview: she admitted that she didn’t realize that it was a bear when she did it. She said, “Who in their right mind pushes a bear?!” And she’s right; no one in their right mind pushes a bear — a bear who could have mauled and killed her! No one in their right mind is going to sacrifice their own life for even an animal — even a beloved animal. We can have compassion on them; and provide for them, and train them, and have a kind of love for them — but none of us are going to literally exchange our lives for theirs! Like she said: “No one in their right mind is going to do that.” It is unthinkable to trade your human life, for that of an animal!
But multiply that by a billion billions, and that’s what Jesus did for us. He who existed in an infinitely higher scale than we are — an entirely different level of being — GOD Himself, Who created everything there is; Who made us; cared for us; humbled Himself to serve us — but added to all that, He then did something absolutely unthinkable and almost beyond credulity: He then DIED for us! GOD, died for US! The Creator, DIED for the creation!
This is one of those concepts that we just can’t grasp with our finite human understanding — we can’t wrap our minds around it. That GOD, died for us. It’s one of those things that so many of us have heard all of our lives, that it sounds so familiar, and it has almost lost it’s meaning, that “Christ died for us.” But if you STOP and think about it, it is the most amazing fact in the entire universe: that GOD would die for us!
Angels, who shielded their eyes from His glory as they worshiped at His feet, must have peered over the clouds of heaven and watched with stunned disbelief, that HE would come to earth — and not only condescend to COME to earth, but to come and then to DIE for THEM! GOD DIE — for THEM? Who He created them all out of dust; who them disobeyed Him and deserved hell — HE would DIE for THEM? And if they just ask Him, He’ll forgive them, and take them back, and save them, because He DIED for THEM?
It’s like the old Charles Wesley hymn: “Amazing Love, how can it be, that Thou my God should die for me?” We’ll sing those words again … and again … and again … for all eternity: “Amazing love, how can it be — that Thou my God shouldest die for me …”. We’ll never get over it in heaven; may we never get over it now … The depth of His humility.
III. The Magnitude of His Exaltation
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Because Jesus took all those steps of self-humiliation and condescension, the Bible says God the Father “highly exalted” Him. To “exalt” means to “raise up,” or “lift up.” But God did not only lift Him; the word is “huper”— lifted up — Scholars tell us this literally means “super-exalted”! God has “super exalted” Jesus!
How did God exalt Jesus?
— First, after all that suffering, he “exalted” Him by raising Him from the dead. This was God’s way of saying, “YES this is My Son; this is the One I sent.” Romans 1:4 says Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” God exalted Jesus by raising Him from the dead, demonstrating that HE is His one-and-only Son; the Only One who can bring us salvation, and who is worthy of worship and honor.
MANY have “claimed” to be God or Messiah; but God only exalted ONE; He only raised ONE from the dead; only One has been “superexalted”: Jesus!
And not only did He “superexalt” Him by raising Him from the dead, but it says He gave Him “The name which is above every name.” No other name is higher than Jesus’. If you were to take ONE name out of history that is greater than any other, it would be the name of Jesus. Even secular historians admit that Jesus is THE central character in all the history of the world.
But not only is His name above every other human name, there is a special meaning to this term: “the name which is above all names.” Dr. Chuck Quarles of our Southeastern Baptist Seminary in North Carolina, tells us that this phrase was actually a kind of “technical term” that Jews would use in the place of the name of God. Many of you know, the Jews had such a reverence for the personal name of God, YHWH, in the scriptures, that they would not say it when they came across it in their readings. So when they came to it, some would just say “Adonai,” (Lord), but others would say “The name which is above all names,” or just “The Name,” (Ha Shem). (I have a Hebrew Bible which translates YHWH as “Ha Shem”, or “The Name.”
All of that to say, that when the Bible says here that God gave Jesus “the name which is above all names,” He was saying Jesus is GOD! HE is that “name which is above all names.” HE is the Great I AM. As Jesus said in John 8, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM” — and the Jews wanted to stone Him because He was making this outrageous claim to be God! But God is saying: YES HE IS GOD! Jesus IS “the Great I AM.” HE IS “the Name which is above all names.” HE IS not “just a good teacher or prophet,” but He is Lord and God and worthy of worship!
And indeed, He is so worthy of worship, this passage says, that at His name, every knee will bow: “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.” In other words: all the angels and beings of heaven will bow to Him; every person on earth will bow to Him; and everyone “under the earth,” in the grave or in hell, will bow to Him. There will be no one, in the end, who will not bow to the name of Jesus!
And, God says, “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.” “Lord” means God, Master, Boss. Calling someone “Lord” is a sign of obedience, and worship.
In fact, the ancient Romans used to call their Caesar “Lord,” or “kurios” in the Greek. At one point, the Romans demanded that every citizen, as a sign of their loyalty to the Emperor, would offer a bit of incense before a little image, and say “Kaiser Kurios” or “Caesar is Lord.” But the Christians would not do it. They said, there is ONE “Name which is above all names,” and that name is Jesus. They said, “We will only proclaim “Christos Kurios” — “Christ is Lord, or they would commonly say: “JESUS IS LORD!” The Romans were infuriated, and sent thousands of Christians to prison, and to be tortured, or burned at the stake, or beheaded, or fed to the lions at the Coliseum. They gave their lives to worship Jesus alone: “Christos Kurios”: “Jesus is Lord!”
And that is STILL the basic Christian confession today: “Jesus is Lord.” When we baptize people, it gives them an opportunity to publicly proclaim Jesus as their Lord. I usually ask the candidates in the baptistry: “Do you confess Jesus as your Lord?” And they have to opportunity to say “Yes I do!” Jesus is my Lord. Some of you here today may need to make that confession of Jesus as your Lord for the first time — we’ll be baptizing in two weeks. Tell me if you need to be part of that group.
But this Jesus, who was God Himself, who humbled Himself to become a man and die for us, God “super exalted,” raised Him from the dead, and gave Him THE Name which is above every name; THE name by which everyone must be saved. The depth of His humility, led to the height of His glory.
IV. OUR IMITATION of His condescension.
Now, technically, we could say, that is the end of this great passage — one of THE most amazing scriptures on the Person and work of Christ. Many theologians believe it was actually one of the earliest Christian hymns. Maybe so — but the thing I don’t want you to forget here is ITS CONTEXT! Everything we looked at today comes in the shadow of the context of :5 that we looked at a week ago: which says we are to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” All this about what Jesus did is not just “abstract theology,” it is here specifically here for us to IMITATE. WE are to “have this attitude” which we see here. We must not forget that as we come to this passage.
In other words, what we see Jesus do here: humbling Himself from His high position, to serve, and even die, for the sake of others — and being ultimately rewarded for it by God — is written as an EXAMPLE for us.
Now, we know that Jesus is not JUST an example for us; He is our Savior. He did things that we can never do; we never existed in the form of God; we cannot die for others on the cross. We can’t imitate Him in those things. But the general pattern of what He did, in humbling Himself for the sake of others, THAT is what we are to imitate — THAT is the context of these verses here. Paul had said in the first verses of this chapter, Keep unity in the church; it’s so important — then he said the way to do that is by putting other people and their needs ahead of your own. And the EXAMPLE of that, he shows us here, is what Jesus did for us in :6-11. That is what this is all about: what Jesus did for US here, is an example of what WE are to do for others. Don’t leave here today without understanding what God wants you to do with this: He wants you to imitate Christ’s sacrifice for others. It’s a challenge for us, because it doesn’t come naturally to us to do that.
But with His Holy Spirit in us, we CAN follow in His steps and do what He did. I think of the deacon Stephen in Acts 7:60, who as he was being stoned, cried out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” How did he do that? Well, Jesus had done it before him, hadn’t He, when He was being crucified? And when Stephen was saved, Jesus’ Holy Spirit came inside him, and gave Him the power to imitate what Jesus did.
And if you have been saved, and God’s Spirit is in your life, you can do the same thing. You can humble yourself from the advantages you have been blessed with; you can sacrifice yourself to reach and save others; and you can trust that your reward is in heaven in incomparable glory, just like Jesus’ was. With the help of God’s Spirit in us, we CAN live out Jesus’ example of selflessness in our own lives. That is the whole point God wants us to get here.
Any human imitation of the condescension of Jesus falls short, but one of the best examples might be a young American woman by the name of Charlotte Diggs Moon. Charlotte was born in the 1800’s to a family of privilege in Albemarle County, Virginia, an area that was called “The Road of Presidents” because several of our early presidents came from her area. Her uncle bought Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello after Jefferson’s death. From such a well-off family, Charlotte didn’t have to work in the fields like most people did, but she went off to college and got her Masters’ Degree in classic literature: the great Greek and Roman poets, as well as Shakespeare. She was the “upper crust” of society in Virginia and the eastern American seaboard. John Broaddus, who founded our Southern Baptist Seminary, said that Charlotte was “the best educated and most cultured woman of the South.”
But as she taught school, Charlotte was convicted by the need of people around the world to hear the gospel — especially in China. There was a shortage of people who would go — many men would not, but she as a single woman said she would go — almost a scandal at that time. But she went to China as a missionary accompanying another family. When she arrived in China, she traveled around by donkey; she stayed in rough peasants’ homes, she told women and children about Jesus in vermin-infested, pig sties. “The most cultured woman of the South,” humbled herself to tell poor Chinese about Jesus in pig sties! But through the people she led to Christ, hundreds of churches were started there. But difficult times hit; funds and food were low — and Charlotte couldn’t stand the thought of eating while her Chinese friends could not, so she shared whatever food she had, and soon began to be sick from malnutrition.
On earth, Charlotte’s story has no happy ending. The mission board tried to evacuate her out of China to Japan and then the United States, to get better medical attention. But on board the ship that was taking her home, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan, Charlotte Diggs Moon died. “The most cultured woman of the South,” starved herself to death telling countless Chinese about Jesus. (And the letters she wrote home, asking for money to send more support, and more missionaries to China, became the origin of our “Lottie Moon Missions Offering” we take up at Christmas time, and that half of our “Acts 1:8” mission offerings go to, that support our 4200 Southern Baptist missionaries all over the world today!)
But the humble, ignominious death of Lottie Moon on that ship was not the end. “God highly exalted her, and gave her a name — NOT “the name above all names”; only ONE has that title — but a name in heaven among the people of God. Instead of her emaciated body, a glorified body; in place of poverty, eternal riches. Instead of the inheritance she forsook on earth, an eternal inheritance in heaven which she can never lose.
But can you see the parallels: how Lottie Moon imitated the condescension of Jesus. He left heaven to save us — so “the most cultured woman of the South” left the comfort of her home, and went to the pig sties of China, to bring the gospel of Jesus. Lottie Moon imitated the story of Jesus in Philippians 2, in almost every way.
And the whole point of this passage is that God is calling you and me to imitate it too, in our own life situations:
— He may be calling some of us like Lottie Moon, or like our own Dan Shuman, who left the privilege and riches of a doctor’s life, to serve the poor on mission. God may be calling some of US too, to leave our homes of privilege and go to foreign places to share Jesus as well.
— Or for some of us it may mean giving up what was going to be our “American vacation,” and go on a mission trips overseas instead, leaving our comfort to go to a foreign people to embrace them with the love and message of Christ.
— for others of us it may just mean leaving our comfortable part of TOWN, or to give up some of our time here — to reach and teach and care for children, youth, or adults right here in Angleton with the message of Christ.
— And for ALL of us — and this is really Paul’s main point here in Philippians 2 — it means that we will imitate Jesus by walking humbly in the church; by not insisting on our “rights” or “our own way;” but follow Jesus’ example by sacrificing our way and our preferences, for the unity of the church and the good of others, because God says it is so important.
Philippians 2 is such an amazing passage about the glory and humility of Christ. But whenever you read it: DON’T FORGET ITS CONTEXT: God put it here right after He said: “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” He put it here to remind that WE are supposed to do what Jesus did: to put others ahead of ourselves, for the unity of the church, and the good of others
And if you WILL do that, the Bible says that just like Jesus, you too will be exalted in the end. There’s a reward for this, if you’ll do it! So don’t insist on your own way. Put others ahead of yourself. Make sacrifices for the sake of unity in the church. Serve other people and not yourself. Have this attitude in yourself, which you see here in Christ Jesus — and if you will, then just like Jesus, your condescension too will be rewarded, with eternal glory!