All of us probably know the beautiful Christmas hymn "O Holy Night." In the first stanza the writer invites us to close our eyes and imagine the world before the birth of Jesus. He says it is a world that lay "in sin and error pining." The word pining refers to the wasting away of the human spirit as it grieves and endures pain. In other words, he paints a picture of a world of darkness without light, and a world of despair without hope. But then come the next three words "till he appeared." when he appeared everything changed.
The president of one of our theological seminaries was at a meeting with the chairman of an accreditation committee, who asked him to state the purpose of his institution. Without a moment's hesitation, the seminary president said, "The purpose of this institution is to change the world." Taken aback by that response, the committee members said, "You don't understand. I know that influencing the world is the general purpose of all education. But I'm asking you specifically, "what is the purpose of this school?" that seminary president reiterated, "The purpose of our school is to change the world."
That is exactly why Jesus came; to change the world. At no time of the year are we more reminded of just how much He has changed it than Christmas. Paul never tells us of the story of Christmas. He leaves that to the writers of the gospels. But in this tremendous passage, he tells us of the glory of Christmas. He tells us why the night on which Jesus was born was such a Holy Night and how to respond to it.
Did you know that there is no recorded birth in scripture after the birth of the lord Jesus? Did you know that the last genealogy or family tree listed in the New Testament is that of the Lord Jesus? That is because the entire Bible, from Genesis to Malachi, pointed to the birth and the name of Jesus Christ.
Paul doesn't give us any details about Jesus’s birth. He leaves that to Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke looked at the birth of Jesus historically. Paul looks at it theologically. In Matthew and Luke you see the historical event, but Paul gives the theological truth.
I. JESUS WAS, AND IS, GOD (v. 6)
“Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.”
Paul declares that Jesus is God. In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appeared to Joseph. Joseph had found that his fiancée was pregnant, and Joseph had planned to divorce her secretly, but the angel told him that this child was to be named Jesus, for he would save His people from their sins. The angel also said that Jesus would be called Emmanuel, which is “translated God with us.”
The Gospel of John begins with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Jesus was, and Jesus still is, God. Jesus was not in danger of losing a position in the Godhead. He did not have to worry about losing anything of His divinity. He was God. Jesus had existed as God for all of eternity. He will continue to exist as God for all of the rest of eternity. He was God.
Why is this important?
I had a conversation with a man recently who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. This man told me his story. This man’s father had died when he was a young child. He later began to go to church. He understood and believed everything he was told, until it came to the point where Jesus died and rose from the grave. The man told me that he knew his father had died, and was not coming back. It is impossible for a man to die and return to life. At this point, he rejected all of Christianity, and he now lives as a proclaimed atheist.
What this man did not realize is that the man of Jesus that died and rose again was not an ordinary man. This man Jesus was fully God. He did not understand that it was not just that a man rose from the dead, but it was the One Who had the power of God, since He was God, to have power over death, and rise from the dead on the third day.
The fact that Jesus was God also meant that He could not sin. As Jesus was not born from the union of a man and a woman, He did not inherit the sin nature of Adam. Instead, Jesus inherited the divine nature of His Father in heaven. Although He was tempted, He was perfect and never sinned. He was able to be the “Lamb without blemish” needed to save humanity from their sins.
II. JESUS BECAME A MAN (v. 7)
“Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”
On Christmas, we celebrate the coming of God to dwell with His people. Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us. The amazing concept of Christmas is that God left from His place of glory in the heavens, in the presence of the angels, a place where He was constantly being worshipped, and He came to earth as a man. He was the all-powerful God who performed mighty deeds in the Old Testament. He was the God that sent the plagues and parted the Red Sea. He was the God that provided manna to His people in the desert. He was the God that made the sun stand still for Joshua. He was the God that brought dry bones to life.
Yet, despite all of this, He willingly left His place in glory to come to us, first as the baby Jesus, born in humble circumstances, laid to rest in a manger, or animals feeding trough. He emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives, apply limitations to Himself. There was never a time when Jesus was not God, but He emptied Himself of His prerogatives as deity.
The few shepherds that came as a welcome party for the Lord God Almighty was a sorry turnout. He deserved for all of the rulers of earth to be present, at the least. But He didn’t force anyone to come. He was willing to be born in a filthy place – not the pretty, clean stables we see all around us at this time of year. He grew up as a mostly unknown carpenter in Nazareth. He could have made Himself as something great on the earth, as He rightly was, but He didn’t. He didn’t have a shining light set around Him like the Shekinah glory, nor did He have a halo around His head. He didn’t stand out from other men. In John 17, Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven that His glory would be restored.
Not only did Jesus come as a man, but He came as a servant. He could have come as a king, but He came as a lowly servant, a carpenter. Not only did He humiliate Himself to become a man, but He came as one of the little people. Isaiah wrote that Jesus would come as a root of Jesse (Isa. 11:10). Jesse had been naught but a humble farmer, but his family line had become kings through his son David. Although Jesus was from the Davidic line on both Mary and Joseph’s side, He was born and lived in the circumstances of Jesse; as a peasant.
It is significant that Jesus came as a man. He came to dwell with us, as one of us, for a purpose. He lived a perfect life. He showed us what God is like, but He came to “give Himself as a ransom for many.” Jesus was born to die.
III. JESUS DIED ON THE CROSS (v. 7-8)
“And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself to the point of death – even to death on a cross.”
Death is a humiliating kind of thing. Death is not natural. God did not create men to die, He created man to live. Man dies because of his sin nature. Death came from the sin of one man, Adam, and is passed down to all men. It is not natural. God did not create man to die. You and I were born to live.
But when God took on flesh and was born as a baby Jesus, He was born to die. He came to this earth for the purpose of His death. He did not have to come as a man, but He did. He did not have to come and die, but He did. He chose to do so because He wanted to do so. He knew that mankind was separated from Him by sin because He is holy, and He knew that man could do nothing to bring themselves to be holy.
God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).
Jesus chose to leave the glory of heaven to come to earth as a man, to be humbled and become a servant, and to serve humanity through His death on the cross.
He chose to be humiliated over and over because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), and the punishment for our sins is death (Rom 6:23). But because He loved us so much, He was born to die to pay the penalty of our sins for us by dying the most horrible death. He came from the highest glory to the lowest place of humiliation for us. And for this reason,
IV. GOD EXALTED JESUS (vv.9-11)
“For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – of those who are in heaven and on the earth and under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The supreme purpose of God the Father today is to glorify Jesus Christ in the universe that was created by Him and for Him.
Think about this: the earth is just one little planet in our solar system, in the whole Milky Way galaxy, which consists of about 100,000 stars, of which our sun is the average of below average size. Our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, is just one galaxy in the universe. There are innumerable galaxies within the known universe.
But our planet is special for this one reason: Christ died here. Man is given dignity because of the death of Jesus. Man looks to the heavens and sings the doxology because Jesus came to earth, He died on the cross for our sins, and He rose again on the third day.
Because of what Jesus has done, God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every other name. Jesus humbled Himself, but God has exalted Him above everything on the earth.
The angel told Joseph to call Him Jesus because He will save the people from their sins. He could save us because He was Emmanuel, God with us. And He came and saved us from our sins through his death on the cross, and God exalted His name above all other names. There is no other name that has the power of God, no other name that is equal or greater than that of Jesus.
Scripture says that one day every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the king of kings and lord of lords. Paul says that all of heaven knows it and will bow down to Him. He says that all of the earth will one day acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and will bow down before Him. He says that those under the earth –even those in hell – will bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen, and how I look forward to that day!
Friends, if you are here today and have not proclaimed Him as the Lord of your life, know that one day, you will proclaim Him as lord of the universe. Everything in heaven, in hell, and in the world belongs to Him already, whether you know it, whether you acknowledge it now or not. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
If you have never responded to His gospel, I pray that you do so today. We will have a time of invitation in just a little while for those that are here that have not already turned their lives over to Jesus. That would be the best way for you to respond to this time of Christmas celebration.
But how should we as Christians respond to this?
V. CHRISTIANS RESPOND WITH UNITY IN THE LOVE OF JESUS (vv. 1-5)
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for their own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.”
Paul is writing this letter to the Christians at Philippi as a practical guide for them. He is telling them to have the attitude of Jesus. Jesus humbled Himself and came to us in love. He was constantly giving of Himself for those around Him. He did nothing to glorify Himself, but was selfless, giving to others all that He could.
Christmas is a time of giving in response to the gift God gave to us in Jesus. It is a time of joy and a time of love. It is a time when people want to be together with loved ones. Christmas is a time of unity. As Christians, we should live as if every day is Christmas. We should celebrate the gift God gave to us, and we should be one in the fellowship of the Spirit. We should show mercy and grace to each other and to those for whom Jesus died. We should have an attitude like that of Christ, who humiliated Himself by becoming a man, living as a servant, and dying on the cross.
Jesus came to change the world, and He did. No longer are we “in sin and error pining.” We are no longer living in a time of darkness, awaiting the light. Instead, we are rejoicing in the salvation Jesus brought to us. We celebrate Christmas because it marks the night when God came to be with us. It truly is a holy night.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.