Jesus’ death for us on the cross stands at the center of Christianity. He is the word made flesh. He is God come into His creation, hated and tortured, made sin and sacrificed for His creation. He, in return, is received by whosoever in His creation is willing to receive Him, loved by those in His creation choosing love. We look to Him on the cross; we look crossward, to better understand His love for us.
His humanity unites Him to us; His divinity saves us. “Come Lord Jesus,” we pray, but do we know to whom we are praying? In this hour we will consider some of what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ humanity. When we learn about Christ’s humanity we are learning also about our humanity. Jesus came supremely close to us to understand our experience and to open the way for us to understand His experience.
Let’s turn together to Philippians chapter two for our study. We are looking into the passage Philippians 2:5-13. And let’s keep this practical. First, we’ll read the passage. If you listen closely you’ll discover an important pattern. Namely, You, then Jesus, you, then Jesus. Hear that pattern as we read...
[YOU...] Let this mind be in you which was also in [JESUS...] Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 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. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 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, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [YOU…] Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is [JESUS] God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Have the Mind of Christ
In Philippians 2:5 Paul tells the Philippians to let this mind be in you. What mind? The mind which was also in Christ Jesus. This is no command to have your identity or uniqueness erased; rather, you are called to be you but you converted, you with the Holy Spirit.
God calls us not to impossibility but to inevitable victory; when we place our will on His side, the victory is inevitable. “Let this mind be in you” in the language Paul wrote in, is an imperative, a command. The meaning is not “be like Jesus, it’s optional”; but rather, “be like Jesus, I command you.” Being issued commands might bother some of us, but that is because so many agents and people who issue demands at us, command us for their own advantage.
Commands also come from love, from agents who are seeking our good. The child who is commanded to stop so that he does not run out in front of a speeding car to be injured or killed, is commanded for his own advantage.
The benefits to you of having the mind, the attitude, the unselfish spirit, the serving, giving character of Christ, are inestimable. They are for your advantage. All of God’s biddings are enablings, right? Then the fact that you are commanded to let the mind of Christ be in you, that His spirit be recapitulated in your mind, is God telling you that you have been enabled to serve Him, you have been assured of victory, if only you place yourself in His hands and don’t take yourself out of His hands.
The Form of God
Jesus is described as being in the form, the morphe, of God. He is not ashamed to be equal with God. We are being told that Jesus is God. He is of the same form, of the same being, as God, for He is equal to God. He, as John says, is God. While this passage is going to speak clearly to His humanity, without reservation it affirms Jesus’ deity. It tells of Jesus’ descent from Deity to humanity, and makes clear His movement from infinity into our world of finiteness.
We have the word “morphe” in the English language. When something is shapeless we say it is amorphous. In biology and in languages we study morphology, the shape of a creature or of a word. Jesus is unambiguously God. He is God in His being. It is not only who He is but what He is. “Being in the form of God,” this is His being as a person; it is His inescapable self. He is not less than God, and He cannot be more than God, for no being is greater than God.
How do you describe God’s being? It’s a language dilemma. There are three occurrences of morphe in the Bible. In Mark 16:12 Jesus appears in another form to two disciples, that is, His identity as Jesus is initially hidden from them but then He revealed His identity to them and they went to tell it to others who did not believe them. In Philippians 2:6 He is in the form of God and in verse 7 He takes the form of a servant. He exists as God but He consents to step down into the beingness of a creature. He determined to become a man, to enter into the humanity which had lost the likeness of God.
He Emptied Himself
The extent to which Jesus descended is so extreme, so shocking, that Bible translators are even nervous sometimes. For example, the King James translation of this line is given as Jesus “made Himself of no reputation.” The more literal New American Standard renders the language quite accurately, Jesus “emptied Himself.” Jesus, when He took the morphe of a servant, emptied Himself. He laid aside certain of His powers of divinity--powers which were His by right--and became a man like you and me.
For God to save man, something very uncharacteristic for God must happen. Someone must die whose life of perfect decisions not to sin can atone for sin. The wages of sin must be paid and there is no one who can pay. Only God could do it. But in His possession of all of His powers of divinity He cannot die. Jesus’ mission included voluntarily dying. But to die He must exist in a format that can die. He had to become human. Furthermore, in order to fulfill His mission, He had to become a killable human. Adam and Eve before they sinned had conditional immortality. But Jesus needed to be able to die. We learn more in the book of Hebrews:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. . . Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:9, 14).
As someone has said, Jesus was born to die. He could not die while in possession of His full divine glory. He emptied Himself of some of His attributes so that He could complete His mission.
Divine Qualities and Attributes
Perhaps you recall those classic qualities of divinity:
- Self-existence (having life in himself)
- Omnipotency (all powerful)
- Omnipresence (everywhere present)
- Omniscience (all-knowing)
- Immutability (unchanging)
God has all these things; humans have none of these things. Before Jesus came, He had all these things. He is God, one of three persons of the godhead. All these were His because He is God; they are rightfully His. However, Jesus did not come to demonstrate these qualities to us. Rather, He came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), to cleanse us from sin (Hebrews 1:3), not only to die for us but to be our great High Priest (Hebrews 2). While here, in His time of ministry up to the cross, He demonstrated the capability of dying, of laying aside some of His divine power, of not being everywhere present, of not being in possession of all knowledge, and even of changing.
Here are two of the most insightful passages touching this question that I know of, from Ellen White’s book, The Desire of Ages. The author tells us that
When Jesus was awakened to meet the storm, He was in perfect peace. There was no trace of fear in word or look, for no fear was in His heart. But He rested not in possession of Almighty power. It was not as the ‘Master of earth and sea and sky’ that He reposed in quiet. That power He had laid down, and He says, ‘I can of Mine own self do nothing.’ John 5:30. He trusted in the Father’s might. It was in faith--faith in God’s love and care--that Jesus rested, and the power of that word which stilled the storm was the power of God (The Desire of Ages, 336).
Jesus revealed no qualities, and exercised no powers, that men may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess, if they will be in subjection to God as He was (The Desire of Ages, 664).
If you think that is weird, that she is just an outlier, let me offer just one more quote, this from the well-known scholar J.A.T. Robinson:
The first act in the drama of redemption is the self-identification of the Son of God to the limit, yet without sin, with the body of flesh in its fallen state. It is necessary to stress these words because the Christian theology has been extraordinarily reluctant to accept at their face value, the bold, and almost barbarous phrases which Paul uses to bring home the offence of the Gospel at this point. . . . [there are however,] pressing grounds for requiring the ascription to Christ, of a manhood standing under all the effects and consequences of the Fall. At any rate, it is clear that this is Paul’s view of Christ’s person, and that it is essential to his whole understanding of His redeeming work (Harry Johnson, The Humanity of the Saviour (London: The Epworth Press, 1962), op. Cit. J.A.T. Robinson, p. 104).
But we are interested in the God’s word direct, so we won’t do any more of these quotations.
Likeness or Unlikeness?
Philippians 2:7 says, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” Some have urged that “likeness” here actually means unlikeness. But Paul uses the word when He talks about our Lord’s humanity in Romans 8:3 also. Notice that usage:
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.
Be clear. What did Jesus do? He condemned sin. Where did He condemn sin? In the flesh. In what flesh? In the likeness of sinful flesh. Is there any qualifying statement about what Jesus did? Did He mostly condemn sin in the flesh, or, did He condemn sin in a flesh almost like our flesh? These qualifiers are not present; sin was condemned actually and in fact in the flesh. What kind of flesh do you have? You have sinful flesh, a human body that has been impacted by the sin of all those who have come before you, starting with Adam. Every single one of your ancestors before you were born chose rebellion against God, every single one of them sinned. The body you grew up with is a far cry from the physical and mental vitality of your ancestors. And then this: your body has also been impacted by all of your sins. How many times have you sinned? Every time you sinned you fell again, and your person was impacted again. Your human body is damaged.
But Jesus condemned sin in human flesh, that is, in fallen human flesh. He came to condemn sin in the kind of flesh that matters to us, the kind we live in, the kind we have. And in that flesh He condemned sin by obeying God in it--just the same way you and I can obey God in it. He did not come because of the likeness of sin; He came because of sin. He did not half die for you on the cross, but in full. And He gives o every person willing to receive it the full benefit of His atoning sacrifice.
How Did Jesus Overcome?
How did Jesus overcome? He employed the promises of God; He trusted the Father, and deployed Scripture weapons. He did not live by bread only, but by every command proceeding from the mouth of God. Jesus’ life is not only given in payment for our life; He is also our model for how to live. As one of us, we may overcome in the same way, by the same weapons He used. In His promises and warnings, Jesus means me. The experiences related in God’s word are to be my experiences.
It could be no other way, unless God reduced the conflict to a puppet show--with us as the puppets! Yet the conflict between good and evil is so much more than that. God makes atonement, His power saves, yet we make our own choices and align with or against Him. The whole universe is learning what are the outworkings of good and of evil.
Humbled and then Exalted
Jesus came down, down, down, to the place where we are, but He never sinned. He took humanity with all its liabilities. He overcame in our humanity. He took that humanity all the way to the cross and there gave His life in sacrifice for us. It was the ultimate humiliation, but He fought the battle as every one of us must fight it, and He overcame.
Then God the Father honored Him by exalting Him. As Paul puts it in our study from Philippians 2:9b-11, the Father has
given Him the name which is above every name, 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, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is thus the center, and His giving Himself on the cross for us and the Father’s giving Him for us there, place the cross at the center of the salvation economy. Every intelligent being in the universe will acknowledge the goodness and justice of God in Jesus and even in the Father’s love, for, unless the Father had granted Jesus permission to die for us, He would not have done so. Jesus would have longed to to save us, but He would have remained subject to the Father’s authority. And so, this all redounds to the high glory not only of Jesus but of God our Father. In Jesus’ plan He came to meet man where he was, to give to all of us moral power to become the sons and daughters of God.
Many, awed by God’s love, stop here. But Paul isn’t finished; he moves to application with a “wherefore” or a “therefore” (depending on your translation). Whenever we see a “therefore” in the text we should pause to understand what it is there for. In this case, it is a consecutive conjunction, a point of distinctive transition in the text.
Seldom does Paul leave his hearers without specific application of what he has been teaching for the believer’s life. He commanded the Philippians (and us) to let the mind of Christ be in us. Now he is going to tell us how to do that.
Cooperation with God
The key phrase we want to wade into here is at Philippians 2:12-13:
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Here is where Paul gets naughty on us; he cuts here against popular theology. He instructs the believer in cooperation. “Cooperation,” even “works,” are not biblically bad words. We need to realize the solemnity of the situation we find ourselves in; our very salvation is at stake. While we are saved by Jesus, we have a part to act. Don’t make a mistake here; It is not meritorious. All the merit that saves us is from Jesus. But the word used here means that there is active work to be engaged in. And yet, it is team work.
God is working in us to will and to do. We choose. We put our will over on the side of Christ. This is not to earn us anything. The Christian life is a life of activity. The way to the kingdom is not an escalator; it is more like a path upward. There is toil, action and effort. It is simple. Jesus gave the warning:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
This is plain language. Many think they will follow an easy path to the kingdom, and they are mistaken. Few follow the more involved, more cooperative path. People want smooth things preached. They want big muscles with small exercise; they want hours of skill without hours invested in learning; they want gain without pain. But all who all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). And all who will know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, will attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).
And no, we are not plucking verses here out of context. The whole book of Philippians is about cooperation between man and God. Evidence?
1:6 Cooperation--He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
1:11 Cooperation--Paul wants Philippian believers to be filled with the fruits of righteousness.
1:19 Cooperation--Paul will be delivered through a combination of the prayer of the Philippian believers and the supply of the Spirit of Christ.
1:27 Cooperation--as the Philippian believers stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.
2:2 Cooperation--by being of one mind together with each other.
2:5 Cooperation--by having the mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus.
2:12-13 Cooperation--by letting God work in you to change you.
3:9 Cooperation--by being found in Christ, having not one’s own righteousness but the righteousness which is given to us by Christ.
3:10 Cooperation--sharing in the fellowship in this life with Christ’s sufferings.
3:17 Cooperation--by following Paul’s example of following Jesus’ example.
4:1 Cooperation--by standing fast in the Lord.
4:6-7 Cooperation--by praying and making your requests be made known to God, and receiving from Him His peace to guard your heart and mind.
4:8 Cooperation--in using your mind to think about the right things and not thing about the wrong things.
4:11 Cooperation--by learning to be content with what you have even while you are trapped in this age of vanity and consumerism.
4:13 Cooperation--by doing all things in through Christ who strengthens you.
Is there really anything new here? Have we uncovered any secret formulas? Have we discovered some clever thing that the pastor figured out? Not really; all of this is Christian boilerplate. It is praying and pleading with God, it is actually seeking to be in unity with each other, it is following the examples of godly men and of Jesus, it is disciplining your heart an mind to think and feel like Jesus, it is receiving God’s forgiveness along with the always-included cleansing from all unrighteousness. There is no one-minute, air-conditioned, magic-carpet ride into the kingdom. You’ve got to want it, and you’ve got to walk it out. But you are not alone. Just take one, only one step at a time, and do it with Jesus beside you holding you upright. We have two choices. We can suffer alone, or, we can suffer with Jesus. I plead with you, choose to suffer with Jesus.
These are strong goals, and God’s Bible warnings tell you that your Christian walk will not go unchallenged. Humans and devils persecuted our Master Jesus, and humans and devils will persecute us. Even the Father subjected Jesus to substantial testing on the way to the cross, and He will help us be successful so that we experience in our life the fruition of our desire to be like Jesus.
Remember the pattern in Philippians 2:5-13. You, then Jesus, then you, then Jesus. Jesus wants to be your personal Savior, not your distant, impersonal lawyer figure, or your forgiveness-pill popping physician. He is glad to forgive you but He does not forgive without cleansing you of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). So friend, look crossward, toward the cross, and see Jesus’ entire journey to the cross, and know that His gift to you is to have the mind you have longed to have, to be able to experience the mind of Christ. It is His blood-bought gift to you and whosoever is willing to have it. Hallelujah and amen.
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