A little delayed, we’ll be continuing our discussion on the book of Philippians.
Today, we’re working through the second part of our early church hymn found in Philippians 2.
Last week we took a look at part one. As a short refresher, let’s read it again together.
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
We talked about how Christ refused to use power over people to bring about his plan. He refused to consider his divinity as a tool to help him gain an edge. Instead, he chose to push against the established system of power through his willingness to lay down all rights and privileges, and to allow himself to be killed as a common, forgotten slave.
The story doesn’t end there
Christ willingly walks to his death. He goes there naked, bleeding, humiliated, and filled with an endless love for his creation.
After his death, Jesus’ disciples mourned felt afraid. If this could happen to Jesus…then what would happen to them?
But it wasn’t the end of the story.
Jesus was buried. Laying in a tomb for 3 days.
But this wasn’t the end of the story.
Christ conquered death. He rose again, and he ascended into heaven.
A miraculous birth.
A meaningful life.
A sacrificial death.
A death-conquering resurrection.
However, Paul reminds us that is wasn’t Jesus’ divine birth, it wasn’t his miracle-filled ministry, it wasn’t his gruesome death, and it wasn’t even his resurrection that acted as the catalyst for what we read next.
It happened because, well, let’s read why:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
What’s happening here?
In this passage we’re reading some serious theology. We’re reading foundational stuff about the Christian faith, and especially in regards to the divinity of Christ.
We’re reading a core passage that helps us understand the doctrine of the Trinity.
For those of us who have been in the church, and really, for those of us who are new to faith, I think we miss the truth impact of what’s being said here.
Equal with God our Father.
Judaism was a monotheism
For us, Christianity has always been about Jesus, right? We’ve grown up hearing things like, “Jesus is the way”…or “What would Jesus do?”
Our Church year revolves around Advent (Christmas and the celebration of birth of Jesus) and Easter (remember Christ’s death and resurrection).
Jesus is part of our cultural theological framework. There has never been a time in our lives that he wasn’t a foundational part of our faith.
This isn’t the case for those within Judaism. Their entire existence, they existed as a people who served and followed YHWH. God. Nobody else.
They (nor any of humanity) had any concept of the Trinity. They had no understanding of Jesus. From their limited experience, it was God and God alone.
But Jesus always existed. He was always one with God; always his equal.
The scholar, Dean Flemming said it this way:
The point is not that Jesus was given a higher status than he had prior to his becoming a man (against Cullmann 1963, 174–81). Rather, the verb means that God lifted Jesus to the highest position possible. It is a place where he is publicly and universally recognized as equal in status with God the Father (vv 10–11). (BBC)
Jesus gives us a picture of who God is and what he values:
One of the most beautiful parts of the life and death of Christ is that he puts skin and bones on a very un-known God.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see God only through the mouth of an extreme minority; a handful of men called by God to be his voice to the people.
Abraham. Moses. The prophets. The High Priest.
To the Israelites, God existed in the Holy of Holies; a special room designated as a place off-limits to all but a select few.
God was always present, he was always working towards redemption, but he was not accessible, and because of this, Israel didn’t know him.
This changed with Jesus.
In Christ, we see God’s mission, mercy and passion for the least of these on full display.
We also see him coming up against generations of theology, and when the walls of theology couldn’t contain him, and when his actions, grace and forgiveness felt too freely offered, they despised him.
I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere…
However, when Christ came, his acts of sacrifice and selflessness, weren’t just a means to an end. They were core a core part of the Identity of God.
The pastor, Brian Zhand nails it when he said:
In Christ, we see a God who would rather die than kill his enemies.
When Paul talks of Christ being elevated, he is talking about God showing the world the majesty and power of Christ.
The Beacon Commentary says it this way:
It follows, then, that we cannot start with a definition of God and try to fit Jesus into it. We must look first to Jesus himself, who reveals to us the identity of God. If we want to know what God is like … God is like Jesus.
Understanding this can and should have powerful ramifications on our lives.
How many of us carry the image of an angry Father-God through life. A bitter and resentful God who beats us with a cane every time we mess up. A God who demands our groveling at his feet, just so he doesn’t strike us down?
Oh, the angry deity is taught, and for many, this God is a projection of their own experiences with an abusive Father. It’s hard for the word Father to be used without all the baggage that comes with it.
And so, we have Jesus. A fully God- fully man, living, breathing, walking, talking, healing, redeeming, forgiving example of who our heavenly Father truly is.
Therein lies the beauty of this passage.
We no longer have to wonder what our heavenly Father is like. When Paul writes this hymn into the book of Philippians, he’s teaching the Philippians, and each Christ-follower after them two things:
First: In Christ, we can be certain that we have a heavenly Father who knows us and the struggles we face at the deepest level.
Paul describes Jesus’ incarnation as his self-emptying, enslavement, humiliation. These words suggest Jesus’ deep identification with our human situation.
We can live confidently in the knowledge that the Son of God stands in solidarity with the poor and the powerless, the suffering and the vulnerable, the lowly and the marginalized, because he has shared our fate.
He is truly a God who is for us.
He is “God with us.” Jesus’ incarnation meant not just becoming human. It also meant embracing the poverty, powerlessness, and death of a slave. It broadcasts the limitless nature of God’s love through Christ.
Second: Power structure, as defined by our culture, and as we have always known it, through the life and sacrifice of Christ, no longer holds weight or truth.
It was said that what Christ’s life, sacrifice, death and resurrection all amounts to is a devastating critique of Caesar and his world (as well as our current world). In Christ we see the one who was humiliated and crucified by Roman power, yet who is declared universally sovereign.
This directly challenges the empire’s version of how to achieve world rule. The story of a self-emptying Lord not only subverts Caesar’s claims to universal dominion but also turns the whole Roman value system of what constitutes honor and power on its head.
It tells us that we don’t have to behave, defend, and be the aggressor anymore.
The cultural narrative of the dominant, self-seeking, me-first necessity is not true, and must be named and rejected.
We must, instead remember that Christ modeled what it looks like to reject that struggle for power, and instead modeled sacrifice, and in that modeling sacrifice, was shown to the world as the King above all.
Christ is king.
To this king, in the end, everything that has ever been created, in heaven, on earth, or in the spiritual realm, will bow in submission to him.
What this means for us
Who is Christ to us? Is our God a sword wielding, angry/abusive, or vengeful deity? If so, how can we begin to allow the character of Christ begin to disassemble those beliefs?
As Christ disassembled these beliefs, we must also ask ourselves if we patterning our lives after him?
Are we sword-wielding Christians? Or are we dedicated to laying down our lives for the world possible offenders in this world?