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If you were the ruler of a vast kingdom, would you give up your crown and give up your life to save a liar or an adulterer? What about a thief or a murderer? Most of us would answer no.
But Jesus, the ruler of the universe, did just that. He willingly gave up His throne, came to Earth, and gave His life to save us. And today, He’s back in heaven, highly exalted.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us how God became man and went on a mission that provided a way for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him.
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Let’s pray. “Father, we ask that in these moments your blessed Holy Spirit may instruct us, enlighten us, rebuke us and teach us. Make this transforming Father because it is your word and your spirit that does the work, in Jesus name, Amen.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheistic philosopher that paved the way for Hitler by predicting the coming of a superman, hated Christianity. He did say on one occasion that if Christians looked more like their Redeemer he might be tempted to believe in that Redeemer. He had no right to say that actually because he hated Christians and as far as that is concerned he hated their Redeemer, too. Putting all that aside, he did have a point, didn’t he? If we want people to believe in our Redeemer I think we had better look redeemed. The question is what does that look like? What does our Redeemer look like and therefore what should we look like?
The text today is Philippians chapter two. It is one of the most amazing passages regarding the incarnation of Jesus. We will be picking up chapter two in a moment at verses five and six. The story of the incarnation, the story of Christmas is remarkable indeed. Why did Jesus become a man? The answer is that we as human beings sinned and because we were mankind, man should pay for man’s sin. It only makes sense. The problem is we can’t pay for our own sin because we are persistent sinners. Any sacrifice that we make is tainted. Furthermore, it is only a temporal sacrifice and not an infinite sacrifice. Therefore even though we should pay, we can’t.
Also, because God is love he would like to pay. But the problem is God is not a man. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. You can’t take a spirit and nail a spirit to a cross. The only way for this to be resolved is for God to become man and do what we as mankind cannot do, to make a payment that we can accept so that God is the Redeemer.
The story of the incarnation is one that is remarkable. It is also a story of mystery. Here we have it in this famous text that has often vexed the minds of our best theologians. Paul gives this teaching in a context saying that those who are redeemed should look like their Redeemer.
He says in verse four of chapter two, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
There are three descriptions of Jesus in this passage I want us to notice. The first is the reversal of roles. There is no decent that one could ever imagine from the glories of heaven to earth, there is none that can match this. Jesus exists in the form of God and he changes roles. He doesn’t change his nature, but he does change roles. The text says, “He is in the form of God.”
You say, “What did Jesus look like before Bethlehem?” That is a good question. Let me give you a description of Jesus before Bethlehem. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphs, and each one had six wings. And then the Seraphim began to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’”
You say, “Wait a minute, that’s not a reference to Jesus. That is a reference to Jehovah, the Father.” Well, because of the Trinity the Bible says in John chapter twelve, verse forty-one that when Isaiah spoke those words, he spoke about Jesus. Jesus is Jehovah. That is Jesus before Bethlehem. Remember that Jesus actually is God. He’s not just applying for the job, he actually is God. And Jesus in all of his beauty had the right to enjoy heaven and enjoy his position as ruler of the world and the worlds.
Now, that is Jesus in the form of God. But he did not think this equality with God was a thing to be grasped. He made himself nothing, of no reputation, some translations say, or emptied himself. This is known in theology as the kenosis because the word “to empty” or “to make himself nothing” is related to the Greek word “kenosis.” It is a form of the word. So this is the great humbling of Jesus.
What is it that he left behind, so to speak? What is it that he did not think he needed to grasp or to hang on to? There are two views, one of which is false. I will give you the false one first. Some say that this must mean that Jesus left his divinity behind. He left his attributes, or at least some of his attributes. That is unthinkable, because if he were to give up at least one attribute he would no longer be God of very God. And, Jesus is called God after the incarnation.
But furthermore, think philosophically and theologically for just a moment. God is a being comprised of various attributes. It is unthinkable that God’s essence could ever change and that God would someday decide that he would no longer be God. God’s attributes form this marvelous combination that we can only begin to grasp, and that God is unchangeable. That’s why Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
That’s not what happened at the incarnation. Rather, he did not think that it was necessary that he grasp the manifestation of being God, the position in the God-head that existed before time. It wasn’t his nature that he gave up or his essence. He gave up his role and was found in the form of a servant. That’s the great reversal that is here. We need to understand that Jesus had all of his attributes even though he chose to live completely as a man. He did not depend on those attributes. That is really what he gave up when he stepped out of eternity into time at Bethlehem.
Think of an illustration. Think of yourself as being a millionaire. Today maybe we should think of ourselves as being billionaires. I don’t know, but to me a million dollars is still an awful lot of money. Think of yourself as being a millionaire but you choose to live in the ghetto of Chicago, the poorest neighborhood in the city. You choose to live there and you go to work with the people, you take your lunch with them, you ride wherever they go and you live like one of them. You are still a millionaire and at any time you could write out a check. But you don’t. That is Jesus living completely as a man though he retained all attributes of the Godhood.
Think of it this way. Here is Jesus. He is omnipotent, but see him sitting there at the well, weary from his journey. He’s omniscient, he knows everything. Yet he says, “Of that day and that hour, no man knows, not the angels nor the son of man, but only my Father.” He voluntarily limited what he knew.
Jesus is also omnipresent. He exists everywhere. There he is and he stays away from Lazarus who is sick and by the time he gets to Bethany Lazarus has been dead already for four days. This is Jesus leaving the role that he played as God to take the role of a servant, while still maintaining all attributes and full deity.
That’s what Jesus did living like we live. That’s why he said, “The works that I do I am not doing. The Father who dwells in me, He does the works. I don’t do anything unless I consult with my Father.” He gives us an example of how we should live in dependence upon him just as he lived in dependence upon the Father. That is the lesson that Jesus teaches us here. The first way that we can describe this is that there was a change of roles, not a change of essence or a lessening of attributes.
We notice also that he changed his appearance. In verse eight it says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” When it says “human form,” don’t get the impression that Jesus just appeared to be human but really wasn’t. No, he actually was human. He had the divine nature and the human nature which were brought together in one person so that he was not schizophrenic. He was both God and man but only one person.
Jesus was fully human and because of that he put up with all kinds of things even though he was God. When he was in heaven nobody asked, “Who is that in on the throne?” But while he was on earth he gets shouted at, “Move it over there, Jew boy. Get with it. By the way, we know who your father is, and could I ask you who your father really is?” He put up with all that.
He wouldn’t have had to put up with all the people in Nazareth wanting to push him over the brow of a hill. He didn’t have to put up with the treachery of Judas. He didn’t have to put up with the curses, abuse and insults that he got from Herod and the soldiers. He didn’t have to put up with that.
Remember that when Jesus humbled himself it was voluntary. It is not as if he was eased out of the God-head because there was some restructuring going on in heaven. This was a voluntary decision that he made to honor the Father and to redeem us. We can’t get our minds around this, can we? We hang on to positions until our knuckles turn white. We hang on to our rights and say, “These are my rights and nobody is going to move me from my pinnacle. I’m here and you will not tamper with who I am.”
Here’s Jesus being willing to do all that in a descent that boggles our imaginations. He whose going forth has been from of old and is from everlasting, those feet that went from eternity to eternity up and down the universe, those feet would now have to learn how to walk. The hands that created all things, those hands would now have to rest securely in the hands of his mother, Mary, a young woman. The eyes that were piercing that saw everything that was going on in the universe, those eyes would now have to adjust to the dim light of a stable. Think for a moment of the ears that have heard everything, those ears would now have to adjust to the Aramaic language, and He would increase in wisdom and in stature with God and with man.
Throughout history there are many people who desired to be God. History is full of people who desired to be God. This is the only instance back then or now where you have a God who desires to become a man. That is why the Bible says, “He humbled himself.” So we see that God changed his appearance. He is now a man. In heaven nobody asks who is on the throne but on earth he has to show his I.D. He has to be spat upon, misunderstood, marginalized and confronted. That is what Jesus did in becoming a man.
Also, you will notice that he changed his mission. His mission was running the world. When I gave a lecture on the Trinity last Sunday I pointed out that my daughter asked the question, “Who was running the world when Jesus was a baby?” That is an excellent question. Who was running the world when Jesus was a baby?
The answer is that the Father was running the world when Jesus was a baby. He gave up his rights to be a part of the running of the world and he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. Instead of being the victor he becomes the victim. He substitutes the crown for the cross. He is obedient to death, even death on the cross.
Why use the word “even?” The cross was really for bad fellows. The cross was really the kind of death that nobody wanted to die. It was painful, it was humiliating and it was excruciating. Jesus now was willing to go even to the cross. That is the depths of his obedience and the depths of his humiliation. It can’t be said in any other way.
Also, the death wasn’t just a random death. It was a death that was brought about by God the Father. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. Yes, evil people were involved and they become responsible for what they have done. But in that death redemption is going to occur. I read a religiously liberal book the other day that said, “Jesus didn’t die a substitute death. His death just shows how much he loves us.” Pardon me?
I heard a pastor use this illustration once: “Let’s suppose I was to take my family to the Grand Canyon and find a huge cliff and say to them, ‘I’m going to hop over and I’m going to die just to prove how much I love you.’ They’d arrest me and take me to a psychiatrist and ask me whether I was off my medication.” What a silly idea to say he died just to show that he loves us. Of course he loves us! If I died for my family in the place of my family, then we would finally be talking sense.
That’s what Jesus did on the cross. It was a substitutionary death and it was a death that we cannot comprehend. For three hours he suffered under the hand of men and for the next three hours he suffered under the hand of God. In those three hours compressed the eternity of hells, and the separation from the Father, not ontologically, but the break in fellowship was that Jesus was being made sin for us.
He is personally innocent but legally guilty of the sins that you committed this past week, legally guilty of the most horrendous things that you can possibly imagine. There are things that you possibly have not done but that others have done. Jesus becomes legally guilty for all those things, even the death of the cross. The reason that you and I can be in heaven today is because he died and suffered for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. After you have received Jesus as Savior, if you die you are welcomed into heaven as if you are Jesus because you are going on the basis of his merit and his work. He stands in your stead all the way into eternity. That is the good news of the Gospel and that is why Jesus died.
Now is this the end of the story? The big story of the resurrection and the ascension is that it shows you how much God approved of what Jesus did. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether on earth or in heaven, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Is there any doubt about Jesus Christ’s exultation? Is there any doubt about the fact that Jesus goes back to heaven and resumes his responsibilities that he had before Bethlehem? What did he say in John chapter seventeen? “Father, glorify thou me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Jesus gets it all back.
Along with that he gets a company of redeemed people for whom he died and who trust him. Jesus is now sitting in heaven. You say, “Does the incarnation end?” No, because once he assumed humanity at Bethlehem it will continue forever. It says in the book of Hebrews, “This man, because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.” You and I will see the body of Jesus, the nail prints, and the glorified body to be sure. Jesus will have that forever and now all of his responsibilities are back.
How much does God think of Jesus? I just noticed it this week again that according to verse eleven, when we give praise to Jesus God is glorified. It says, “Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” God says, “Do you want to glorify me? Give lots of praise to Jesus, and I am glorified in the praise.” There’s not a single tongue that has ever been created from the time of Adam to today and beyond that in the end will not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. God will get glory from his Son and the praise that is given to his Son. Buddha will say, “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Mohammad will say, “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Krishna will say, “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
You can choose do it in this life, like many of us do. We gladly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. We have bet eternity on him, and it’s a good bet. But if you don’t do it in this life you will do it in the next. You say, “Will it be compulsory?” That is a difficult term. By compulsory we don’t mean that there will be a gun to your head. But you will do it, overcoming all resistance you had to Jesus in this life. Even if you are lost forever you will say, “Jesus is Lord,” and you will confess that to the glory of God the Father. Either you receive him now as Savior and gladly confess it or you confess it later, though separated from him for all of eternity. God says, “Not a single tongue that I have ever created will be exempt from giving my son praise.”
This is a series of messages entitled, “What we believe and the difference it should make.” I’ve spoken about such issues as the book we trust, the Father we worship, and today it’s the Son we follow. Remember first the goal is always that you understand these doctrines. Second, the goal is that you know them and are able to defend them to others.
What difference should all this make? Why should you and I be changed forever because of this passage of scripture? First of all, let me say that Paul didn’t give this to throw out some theology so that somebody over at the Seminary would have a topic to write their dissertation about. You know how it is over at the Seminary. They’re always looking for some good passage to write about and this is a great one. But that is not why he wrote it.
You’ll notice it says in verse three, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Paul is now saying, “If you want to have people believe the Redeemer, look redeemed. Jesus is your example of humility.” The first lesson is that God’s way up is down. The Bible says, “Younger men, be subject to your elders, clothe yourselves with humility, for God is opposed to the proud.” That means God is at war with the proud. Some of you are sitting there today saying, “I don’t need a Redeemer and I am going to do well on my own.” Like a guy told me on the plane, “Don’t worry about me. I am going to stand on my record and do well.” God’s way is humility.
What Paul is trying to say is the illustration of Jesus in the incarnation is the way which we should live, always considering others better than ourselves. I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to get there. We are wired to take care of number one. If you have been cheated or wronged, your decision to cut yourself off and to look after number one is going to be strong and overwhelming until God overcomes all that in your life and overcomes your blindness and you see the beauty of Jesus. Then we should be willing to consider others better than ourselves.
An illustration comes to mind that I gave here many, many years ago about Promise Keepers where we were all waiting for the same van. There were about fifty of us and we all needed a ride in a van that maybe held twelve people. It was cold out and every time the van came all of us went running to the van because we wanted to be first.
We had just been in Promise Keepers in Atlanta where 40,000 people had this marvelous sermon given by Blackaby on what it means to be filled with the Spirit. When I finally got into the van I said, “I don’t know what the filling of the Spirit means, but it must not mean that we consider others better than ourselves.” If we were really filled with the Spirit the van would pull up and nobody would go. We would all say, “You go first.” “No, you go.” The van would go to the hotel empty. The text says to consider others better than ourselves. Could you do that today? That is the first lesson.
Second, the world is changed by suffering. Jesus didn’t change his world through miracles. As I’ve told you many times, those who were dead had to die again. In fact, someday I am going to preach a message on people who died twice, like Lazarus and a few others who had to say, “Been there, done that.” Jesus didn’t change the world through miracles. He changed the world through suffering.
If we are going to attract people to the Redeemer and look redeemed then we are going to have to suffer better than we are suffering. We are going to have to suffer without complaining. We are going to have to suffer like Jesus suffered and we are going to be able to take the heat. As our nation sinks into antichristian secularism and other “ism’s,” suffering may well lie ahead. We have to do it well.
There are three kinds of suffering. The suffering of circumstances, the suffering of persecution and the third is when you choose to suffer with others you wouldn’t have to suffer with. It is in that way that we represent Jesus to the world. We are sick and tired of the shallow triumphantism of Evangelicalism that thinks we can win this battle and if we get enough people we can win that battle, though that is important within its own context. But we should never loose sight of the fact that it is the Gospel that we proclaim, and at the end of the day when all the speeches are given what people really need is to see Jesus.
There’s a story about a man who had a dream and in the dream he was carrying a very heavy cross. The cross was so heavy. He was trudging through the woods and he came to a woodsman who had a saw and he said to him, “Would you saw off part of my cross? It’s too heavy for me to bear.” So the woodsman sawed off a good chunk of the cross. The man put the cross back on his back and began to walk. He could walk much faster and lighter because the cross wasn’t as heavy as it once was.
On his way to the Promise Land he came across a chasm and he had to get from one side of the chasm to the other. This was now part of the trail in his obedience to Jesus in carrying his cross. The only thing he could do was to lay down the cross and use it as a plank to walk over to the other side. But he discovered that his cross was too short. It was too short just the amount he had asked the woodsman to cut off. He said, “Oh Jesus, what I wouldn’t give for a heavier cross. What I wouldn’t give to carry my entire cross so that I can get on with my Christian walk.” Then he awoke and discovered it was all a dream and he was so glad that he could carry his heavy cross.
Could I leave you with this today? The lighter our cross is the weaker our witness. If we want to look redeemed and attract people to our Redeemer, we are going to have to carry our crosses, some of those crosses imposed upon us because of our stand for Jesus. When we do we will discover that others will be attracted to the Redeemer because at last like Jesus we will look redeemed.
Remember too that it is not through carrying your cross that you become a Christian. That part of the message is for those of you who are Christians. What you do is you come to the cross for salvation freely given and after you’ve received Christ you become his follower and you take up his cross into a skeptical, disbelieving, angry world. That’s the kind of world where Jesus carried his cross. And so we follow him all the way to our death.
Would you join me as we pray? “Father, grant us the grace to follow you. Forgive us for so often not looking redeemed and help us in humility. Your word says, ‘Let the younger ones be subject to the older in humility.’ Help us with brokenness to follow you. Help us to see the cross that you’ve laid upon us as a cross of joy despite its pain. Help us to carry that cross to point others to the Redeemer.”
Now before I close this prayer, if you’ve never received Jesus as Savior, do you remember I told you that you could have that assurance? Even where you are you could pray a prayer that says, “Jesus I know that I am a sinner. Thank you that you died for sinners. I receive your death and resurrection as for me.” Would you make that transfer of trust right now?
“Father, we thank you that we have the privilege today to confess Jesus as Lord and that he shall reign and that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of the Father, in Jesus name, amen.”
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