Christ’s Humiliation, 2.16.20
Good morning, dear church family. Please go ahead and open your Bibles to Phil 2:6.
Since my time as pastor here, the Lord has used the weekly study of his word to touch my heart. I feel that the Lord has brought about in me a deeper love for him through the weekly routine of sermon preparation. It is a tremendous privilege and responsibility to have this type of daily, weekly encounter with God. I truly thank you for paying me to do this. That’s what you pay me to do. To study the Bible and present God’s thoughts to you. Thank you, dear church family. While you’re out working, I’m in my office, sitting and reading. Thank you for allowing me to do this.
Not every passage I study has the same impact upon me. Some passages have had a great impact on me, others not as much. This is also the same for you. Not every sermon I preach has the same impact on you. Some messages touch you more than others. That’s understandable.
Out of all the passages that I’ve preached on since being here, the passage that we will be dealing with this morning has made the greatest impact on me. This is the passage that I have learned the most from. Prior to studying it, I thought that I had a grasp on its meaning. I didn’t think anything would surprise me when I started studying it. I thought that I would be more reminded of the truth I already believed, rather than learning something new or having my perspective altered. I was wrong.
In our passage, we might have the most succinct and yet most disturbing presentation of what it is that Christ has done for us in his life and death. What Paul describes here is truly jarring to the senses. We are going to see this morning why Paul says in 1 Cor 1:23, the passage we read during our pastoral prayer, that the gospel is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.
With that brief introduction, let’s go ahead and read our passage for this morning. It is Phil 2:6–8.
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.
I’ve entitled this morning’s sermon, “Christ’s Humiliation,” I get that term from v. 8. You see that there. Paul says that Jesus “humbled” himself. This passage and thus my sermon is about Christ’s humiliation. Him humbling himself. There are four stages in Christ’s humiliation. And each successive step that Jesus takes in this passage is a further progression of his degradation, his shaming, his humiliation. Paul starts in v. 6 with Jesus as the pre-existent divine Son of God. Paul ends with the pre-existent divine Son of God dying on a Roman cross. This is the nadir, the lowest point, the most debased, most humiliated position in the Greco-Roman world. So we’re going from up here (Jesus as divine Son of God) to down here (the God-man dying on a cross) in four successive steps.
Step One: Christ as Pre-Existent Son of God
Step one is Christ as pre-existent divine Son of God. If your taking notes this morning, write that. It’s a mouthful, so I’ll repeat it. Step one is Christ as the pre-existent Son of God. This point arises from v. 6. Let’s read it,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
What I want us to first notice about this verse is the time frame of the events. There are two verbs used in this passage. Jesus is the subject of both the verbs. He is the one “doing” the verbs. The two verbs are in the ESV are “was” in the first part of the verse and “count” in the second part of the verse.
What I want you to notice verse about this verse is the timing of these activities. Ask yourself this question, “When did perform these verbs?” The way we answer this question is by looking at v. 7. Look with me there,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Specifically, notice that last idea in the ESV, it says “being born.” In natural human life, being born is the first event of our lives. It’s the first verb we participate in. It’s the beginning of life. For Christ, though, this was not the first event. The first event is found in v. 6. Paul presents here a succession of events. The events of v. 6 temporally precede v. 7.
Paul is saying that Jesus existed prior to his birth. He was the subject of verbs prior to the time he was born. Jesus’ earthly life began at his birth. But prior to the beginning of that earthly life, he had a heavenly life. It is that heavenly life that is describe in v. 6.
In his heavenly life, Paul comments mentions a positive event (something Christ did) and a negative event (something Christ did not do).
The positive statement occurs first: “though he was in the form of God.” The term for “was” explains Jesus’s pre-existent state of being prior to the incarnation. The verb “was” doesn’t so much describe something that Jesus “does,” an action that he performs. Rather, the term for “was” explains Jesus’s pre-existent state of being prior to the incarnation. The following preposition phrase, “in the form of God,” describes this state of being.
In order to understand “form of God,” we have to understand the word Greek word for “form.” The Greek word is μορφή. This noun shows up in v. 7. In that verse, look with me, Paul says that Jesus “took the form [μορφή] of a servant.” This mention of a “form of servant” is what happened to Jesus at his incarnation. And, remember, v. 6 is describing a previous event to v. 7.
Prior to Jesus taking on the “form [μορφή] of a servant,” he existed “in the form [μορφή] of God.” We get two ideas here. We get pre-existence. Jesus existed prior to his birth. We touched upon that already. His pre-existence does not necessarily mean, though, that he is divine. Jesus could have pre-existed in the “form [μορφή] of an angel.” Prior to his incarnation, he could have
been a non-divine being, such as an angel. But he wasn’t. He was “in the form of God.” He pre-existed as a divine being. He existed as the Son of God.
Paul then states that in this pre-existent state as the divine Son of God, Christ “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Here we have a negative statement. This is probably the hardest statement to understand in our passage. If you have a KJV this morning, your passage states something considerably different. The KJV states that Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Robbery? What an odd concept.
What Paul is saying here is that Jesus, as the pre-existent divine Son of God, was not a selfish being. As the Son of God, he did not desire complete equality with God the Father as something worth pursuing. Even though he was equal with God the Father as his Son, rather than insist upon his divine right of privilege, status, and glory, he reject these rights. Jesus rejected his rights. He rejected his divine rights and privelegs that were rightfully his, those that he shared with the Father.
Step Two: Christ’s Incarnation
To what end did he reject these rights? Why did Jesus reject these rights? What did Jesus’ selflessness lead him to do? These questions lead us to our second point, the second step in Jesus’ humiliation. Christ’s journey in this passage began in eternity past as the selfless, pre-existent, divine Son of God. Due to his selflessness, he chose to accomplish the will of the Father. And the Father’s will was that the Son would redeem mankind. That redemption necessitated the incarnation. And that is the next step of Christ’s humiliation. It is Christ’s incarnation.
I get this point, from v. 7 and the beginning of v. 8.
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form.
What you will notice first about v. 7 is the “but” at the beginning. This verse is forming a contrast with v. 6. This contrast is that Jesus did not insist upon his own rights and privileges. He didn’t do that. Instead, he did something else. The “but” highlights this contrast. He didn’t insist upon his rights. He did something else.
What did he do? Paul says, “he emptied himself.” He forsook these divine privileges and rights. I think the KJV does a great job here. The KJV states that Jesus, “made himself of no reputation.” That’s what he emptied himself of. He emptied himself, not of his deity, but of his rights and privileges. He forsook them.
μορφὴν δούλου λαβών
What follows in v. 7 and the beginning of v. 8 is a threefold description of how Jesus emptied himself. How did he do it? He did it three ways. First, he emptied himself, “by taking the form of
a servant.” We’ve already touched upon this verse earlier in the sermon. Jesus took on the form, the μορφή, of a servant. This word for servant is the Greek word δοῦλος. This Greek word is best interpreted as “slave,” not “servant.” “Servant” doesn’t take us low enough. Jesus completely abases himself, not as a “servant,” but as a “slave,” as a δοῦλος. The one who was in the form of God voluntarily took upon himself the form of a servant. He took it for
ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος
What type of “slave” did Jesus become? He became a man. He became human. The type of “slave” he became. The ESV states that that he was “born in the likeness of men.” Other translations say, “made in the likeness of men.” The same idea is being communicated. This is his incarnation. His birth. What we celebrate at Christmas. In becoming human, though, Jesus did not cease to be divine. He became a human but was divine. He is always divine but has not always been human.
καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος
Because he was born as a man, he, therefore, looked like a man. That’s what Paul means when he says at the beginning of v. 8 in the ESV, “And being found in human form.” The one who existed in eternity past in the form of God took on the form of a slave and looked like the form of man. He was a man. He shared in with us a complete human nature, yet he was without sin. Often when we think of Jesus, we think of him as God in a human body. That is not what Paul is teaching here. Jesus was truly God and truly man. He’s both/and, not either/or. You can neglect either his divinity or his humanity. In Christ, there is the perfect symmetry of deity and humanity.
Step Three: Christ’s Death
By becoming incarnate, the Son of God entered a realm of disease, sickness, pain, suffering, and ultimately death. In his pre-existent state, the Son of God was unable to suffer due to his lack of a body, due to his lack of physical existence in the physical existence. By taking on human flesh, however, that changed. By taking on a human body, God could now die. And, in fact, that is what Christ did, Paul teaches us. This is step three in Christ’s humiliation: Christ’s death.
We get this from v. 8.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
One of the main objections to Christianity from other religions is the objection that Christianity cannot be true because Christianity teaches that God died on the cross. The thinking goes that because Jesus is God and because Jesus died, God, therefore, died. Muslims, Unitarians, and Jews usually have this objection. God cannot die, though. God by definition cannot die. How is it that God—the eternal being who is unchanging and all-powerful—could die? Christianity is thus wrong in one of their central teachings.
This passage addresses that objection. Look again at v. 8. Verse 8 mentions,
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
So, here we have the pre-existent divine Son of God dying. What!? My friends, have you heard of a more outrageous thought. God dies. How is it possible that this happens? How is it that we as Christians can affirm that God died on the cross?
This objection to Christianity arises from a misunderstanding of who Jesus is. Jesus is not just divine. Paul does move from v. 6, where the Son of God is God himself, then to v. 8, where the Son of God dies on a cross. Verse 6 leads to v. 7 which leads to v. 8. The logic of God in Christ dying is build upon v. 7, is built upon Jesus becoming incarnate. He’s both God and man. By taking on full humanity, by becoming incarnate, receiving a human body, the Son of God could suffer. God in Christ suffers by means of Christ’s physical body. The addition of a human nature and body makes possible the idea that God in Christ can suffer. What a tremendous thought.
And why did Jesus suffer to the point of death? It was a form of obedience. See that in v. 8? “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Jesus left heaven to obey the Father’s will for him. And what was the Father’s will, dear brothers and sisters? It was to save the world of their sins. Jesus did this out of obedience, out of his love for his Father. Jesus did it out of love. John 6:38 reads,
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Step Four: Death on a Cross
The Father’s will for the Son was that he would die a very specific form of death. Jesus’ obedience didn’t extend to him dying in his sleep (as horrible as that would be for the perfect Son of God). No. The Father’s mission for the Son extended to the most heinous, most shameful, more humiliating, most horrific form of death in the Greco-Roman world. This is our last point this morning. This is step four in Jesus’ humiliation. Death on a cross.
Read at the end of v. 8. Paul includes this short but massively important statement,
Even death on a cross.
This comment by Paul is not a mere add on. This comment hones in on the depths of humiliation that Christ went through. In order to understand what Paul means here, we must understand what significance the Roman cross had in the ancient world.
Today we wear crosses around our necks, we put them up on our walls as decoration, and they hang in our churches. The Christian church has turned the cross into a sign of their cause. I think this is wonderful. This is the best sign that we have as Christians. It captures everything that Christianity is about.
However, it is important to remember that this is not how the cross has always been perceived. On the contrary, in the context of Philippi, when Paul wrote this letter, the cross was a symbol of unspeakable shame, torture, and agony. Roman law reserved crucifixion for the worst criminals.
Only slaves and foreigners could be executed. The famous Roman orater Cicero said this of crucifixion,
It is a most cruel and disgusting punishment. It is the worst extreme of the tortures inflicted upon slaves. There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed of crucifixion.
Along with this Roman background, there also is the OT background of God’s curse being upon those who hang on a tree. Listen to what Duet 21:22–23,
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.
When we combine these two contexts, the Roman one and the Jewish one, we can make sense of Jesus’ humiliation. Jesus descended from on high. He was the pre-existent divine Son of God. He did not insist upon his own rights, though. He sought to obey the Father’s desire to save mankind from their sins. To due this, the Son of God must become incarnate. That’s what he did. He humbled himself by becoming a slave. He took on human flesh and became fully man. He submitted himself to death, to pay for the sins of mankind. This wasn’t any old death. This was death on a cross. The most shameful and horrific way to die in ancient world.
The matchless Son of God descended deep, deep, deep down into the darkest hellhole of humanity suffering, misery, and torment.
Why did Jesus do this? Why, Pastor? We have touched upon this question. But I will end by explaining it in more detail. The reason why he did this is because this is what had to be done to save mankind. Our thoughts, our actions, our words, our motives are wicked. We are sinners. Not just a little bit either. We are bad. Really bad. We’re selfish, we lie, we commit adultery, we steal, we think incredibly evil thoughts. And to add to that, we excuse ourselves of these sins. We hide them. Rather than confess, we lie about them. We’re fake. We’re hypocrites. The gruesomeness of the cross corresponds to the depravity of hearts. The reason why Jesus would suffer such a punishment for us is because that is what our sins necessitated. We are that bad.
That is the type of person that you are and that is the type of person who Jesus died for. My brothers and sisters, yes, you are wicked, but Jesus died for you. Regardless of what you’ve done, regardless of how bad you are, Jesus came to save you. No sin can separate you from Jesus. He came to this world to give his life for you. The Bible puts it this way, “But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Jesus gave his life for you. He did this for you. He did this to save you, to wash you clean, and to give you eternal life.
The way I want to end this morning is by having a time of corporate response. If your sins weighing on you, if you feel convicted, if you feel that you need to respond to Jesus Christ, you need to do that. You need to do that right now. We’d like to make an opportunity available to you. Pastor Jesse is going to lead us in song and myself and two other elders will be up front if
you would like to talk to us about your soul. You can also come up to the steps of the stage to pray if you’d like. Or, you can bow in your seat and pray. Whatever you would like.