Summary: Paul helps us to view the incarnation from God's perspective.
Most of us are pretty familiar with the accounts of the birth of Jesus and the visits by the shepherds, and later the magi, that we find in Luke and Matthew. In fact, even outside the church, most people have at least some familiarity with those accounts. Unfortunately much human tradition has been added to those accounts over the years, so there are all kinds of ideas about the birth of Jesus that frankly have no basis in Scripture. And it’s even easy for those of us who are Christ followers to get caught up in those traditions.
In order to illustrate that point when Mary and I were teaching teenagers in a church in Albuquerque, I used to give the kids a Christmas quiz. So just for the fun of it, let’s see how well you do with a couple of these questions.
How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem?
d. Mary rode, Joseph walked
e. No reference / None of the above
Mary and Joseph were already married when Jesus was born.
How many wise men were there?
c. At least two
e. No reference / None of the above
Where did the wise men find Jesus?
a. In the manger
b. In the stable
c. In a house
d. In Nazareth
e. In Egypt
f. No reference / None of the above
But even an accurate understanding of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus is insufficient to completely understand the reason for His birth. Even though there are some hints in both Luke and Matthew’s accounts – primarily in the words of the angels to Joseph, Mary and the shepherds – we still don’t get the complete picture. That’s because most of those events are recorded from the perspective of the humans who witnessed them.
Fortunately for us, however, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us some great insight into those same events from God’s perspective. So let’s read those words of Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi:
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 emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)
The purpose of this section of Paul’s letter is to help his audience understand the kind of humility that they need to have toward each other. But when He uses the example of Jesus to illustrate the kind of humility they are to have, he also gives them, and us, some essential insight into the significance of the birth of Jesus.
From a human perspective there was really nothing to differentiate the birth of Jesus from any other human birth that occurred around that time. Jesus looked just like any other baby. In spite of artists’ renderings that show otherwise, He did not have a golden halo around His head. And contrary to one popular Christmas song, He most certainly cried just like any other baby. And he wet and soiled his diapers just like any other baby.
But from God’s perspective this was no ordinary birth. And here in Philippians Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reveals the incarnation of Jesus from God’s perspective.
THE INCARNATION OF JESUS FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE
1. Jesus is God
In verse 6, Paul begins with a phrase that is key to everything else that comes afterwards:
…he was in the form of God…
Since this is so crucial, let’s take a closer look at the two key words:
“he was” - describes that which a person is in his very essence and which cannot be changed
The meaning of this verb is further emphasized by the fact that it is in the present tense. In other words, not only was Jesus God in the past, He remained God at the time Paul wrote these words and He remains fully God today.
The writer of Hebrews confirms that very same idea:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
“form” (vv.6, 7)= “nature” or “character”
We’ll see in a moment that Paul uses another word that is also translated “form” later in this passage. But the word he uses here indicates the permanent nature or character of an object or person. It is something that is not affected by time or circumstances.