God Made Low

Original Date: 
Saturday, December 24, 2016

Philippians 2:5-11 The Fullness of Deity: God Made Low

On Wrapping Presents
I am not good at wrapping presents. In fact, I am terrible at it. Give me a roll of wrapping paper, a scotch tape dispenser, and a pair of scissors, and I’m downright dangerous.

On Tuesday we had our staff Christmas party where we exchange white elephant gifts. Here’s a picture of my gift…

Now, believe it or not, that is an honest to goodness effort to wrap that present on my part. I didn’t deliberately do a bad job, that’s just the best I can do. (Notice the little extension of wrapping paper? My gift this year was one that can be plugged in, so that’s the power cord. I didn’t want it to show, so I threw a little extra paper on there.) Now, of course, our white elephant gifts are deliberately tacky. So my best efforts to wrap a present are perfectly in keeping with the spirit of that party.

But with meaningful gifts, the gifts I want to give to my family, my gift wrapping inability is quite a problem. Frequently, I find refuge with the gift bag. http://blog.consumercrafts.com/kids-stuff/mix-and-match-christmas-gift-b...

Right? That’s the last resort of the paper folding inept.

Gift bags kind of feel like cheating though. And it takes away from the experience of opening the gift.

So, this year, I really cheated. I found somebody in church who has the spiritual gift of wrapping presents. And she said she didn’t have many presents to wrap this year, so it was her joy to wrap mine for me. So here’s a picture of the gifts I’m giving this year. I think they look pretty good—if I do say so myself.

So, when it comes to complaining about how gifts are wrapped, I know I’m in no position to talk. But still, I want to tell you about one of my Christmas present pet peeves: it drives me nuts when a Christmas present comes in a package that’s too big for it.

Do you know what I mean? There’s this big present under the tree. It’s way bigger than all the other ones, so you know it has to be good. Because bigger equals better. Everybody knows that.

So when it’s your turn to open a gift you start with the big one. You tear into it only to find that it’s a box filled with packing paper. So you dig and you dig and you dig until you get to the bottom and find a single envelope with a $15 gift card to Casey’s inside of it.

Now, it’s not that the gift card is necessarily a bad gift. Everybody needs to put gas in their car. It’s just that the packaging was misleading. There was false advertising. The package said: this is a big gift. This is the kind of gift you’re going to have to make extra room for in the car, just to get it home. And the reality is, it’s just a piece of plastic. It’ll fit in your pocket.

So, I’d like to propose a rule—it’s a simple rule: Christmas gifts should fill the packaging they are wrapped in. If you are giving me a gift card, put it in an envelope. I’m cool with that. If you are giving me a new pair of shoes, wrap ‘em up in a shoe box. And if you are giving me a new 60 inch television with 4K Ultra High Definition and surround sound and internet capability (not that I would want anything like that), then feel free to give it to me in a 60 inch television box.

I just think there is more truth in advertising this way. We are better able to fit our expectations to the size of the package.

So now, let’s think about the most important Christmas gift of all: Jesus Christ. I’d like to suggest that when God sent Jesus, He sent a gift that perfectly filled the package it was wrapped in.
The Bible verse we have been using throughout the month of December is Colossians 2:9. Here’s what it says:

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

Here’s the mystery of Christmas in 13 words. Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tonight, contains “all the fullness of the Deity… in bodily form.” If you want to think of Jesus as a Christmas present, then you have to see that God filled Him up. The fullness of Deity. That implies that it was all there. Everything that God is, found in Jesus.

This was not one of those big boxes with a tiny gift card inside of it. If anything, it’s exactly the opposite. The word “fullness”, to me, implies “filled to the brim, overflowing.” This is like you have to keep grabbing extra wrapping paper, because the gift is barely contained in the package. All the fullness of Deity is in Christ and it is spilling out and overflowing from Him.

That’s what we celebrate tonight. God becoming a man.

Jesus—this baby born to Mary, placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes, the one whose birth was announced by a new star in the sky and a chorus of angels singing in the Bethlehem hills—was the fullness of God in bodily form. He is the place in whom God was pleased to take up residence. All the attributes and activities of God are perfectly displayed in Christ Jesus.

So how, exactly, does that work? How does God become a man?

I’m afraid that is a mystery beyond my ability to comprehend or explain. And yet, there is a passage of the Bible that does explore it. It’s Philippians 2:6-11. It’s often called “the Christ Hymn.” And while it doesn’t clear up all the mystery, it does give us a pretty good picture of what happened on that first Christmas.

Here’s what it says:

6 [Christ], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So, three things about Jesus. 1) What He was. 2) What He did. And 3) Why He did it. Let’s start with what He was:

All the Rights and Privileges Pertaining Thereto
Jesus pre-existed as God. Before the wise me came to honor Him, before He was delivered in Bethlehem and wrapped in swaddling clothes, before He was conceived in Mary’s womb—Jesus Christ already existed. He was—and still is, for that matter—the second person of the Trinity. He was, in every way, with and a part of the holy, sovereign, creating, glorious Godhead. Verse 6:

6[Christ], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

So before Jesus was ever born, He already existed as God. The Belgic Confession puts it like this:

"He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the 'reflection of his glory,’ being in all things like him."

And as God, that means Jesus had “all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” Do you know that phrase? In my office, I’ve got a couple of diplomas. One from college, and one from seminary. And on both of those diplomas is a variation of that phrase; that I have achieved such and such a degree and therefore I am entitled to “all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” I’m not exactly sure what any of those rights and privileges are, but still, it’s nice to have.

What this verse is saying about Jesus is that He has the degree of being God and He is therefore entitled to “all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” Now, think about what some of those rights and privileges would be. This means:
• Every angel in heaven jumped at His command.
• Every speck of sand on the seashore bowed in allegiance to His Will.
• The wealth of heaven and earth was in His treasury.
• Unfettered worship of every being in heaven was His inalienable right!

Jesus was, and is, in every way, God.

In fact, let me see if I can give us just a taste of this. Take a look at this picture:

This is the Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals in Chihuahua, Mexico. It’s located nearly 1000 feet below ground. It was discovered in April of 2000 when two brothers working for the Naica Lead Mine, one of the largest and most productive lead mines in the world, were drilling a feeder tunnel and broke into the cavern.

I want you to notice the people in the picture. That gives you a sense of the size of these selenite crystals, some of the largest ever found. The cave itself is about the size of a football field and two stories high. Some of the crystals measure 36 feet high and are estimated to weigh 55 tons. That’s about the height of a telephone pole and 100 times as heavy.

In order to get to this cavern requires a 30 minute van ride down the main tunnel of the lead mine. Unlike most caves, which tend to stabilize in temperature around 55 degrees, this cave actually gets warmer the deeper you go. This is because scientists believe it sits right on top of a pocket of magma. Temperatures in the cave hover around 113 degrees Farenheit with 100 percent humidity. Explorers and scientists who visit the cave can only stay inside of it for about 10 minutes before risking death.

Now, I want you to think about this. This kind of amazing, indescribable beauty exists 1000 feet beneath the earth’s surface. There is no natural entrance to it. It was only discovered by accident. And yet, it is there. Who saw it before those miners?

God did. Beauty that was inaccessible to us has always been there for God. Jesus could see these crystals any time He wanted to. As God, He has the right and privilege of visiting this breath-taking place anytime He wants.

Or, check out this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjaNzZt2olk

This is the Atolla Jellyfish, also known as the “alarm jelly.” He lives in what is known as the bathypelagic zone of the ocean—between depths of 3,000 and 12,000 feet. This region is also called the “midnight zone,” because no sunlight penetrates to that depth. But that doesn’t mean there is no life there. The species that inhabit this zone of the ocean have special behaviors and adaptations that help them conserve energy and find food.

In particular, there are bioluminescent species at this depth—animals that produce their own light. These creatures convert chemical energy into light. Many of them do it to attract prey, or to scare away predators.

What makes the Atolla interesting is that when he gets threatened, he enacts a series of bioluminescent blue flashes which circle around much like the light atop a police car. Scientists believe what the Atolla is doing is trying to attract the attention of bigger predators who will come after the animal that is threatening it, allowing the jellyfish to swim to safety in the confusion.

And all of this from an animal that does not have a single brain cell.

Now, my point is this: There are a thousand kinds of self-lighted fish who live deep in the ocean where none of us can see and marvel. They are spectacularly weird and beautiful. Why are they there? Who sees them?

We’re discovering them now, but for all of history, you know who could see them? God could. Jesus could. All of this lavish splendor and amazing peculiarity is His to look at and admire. He created it! Crystal caves a quarter mile under the earth’s surface. Strange glowing fish a mile under the ocean. It is the right and privilege pertaining thereto of God to see all of that, to create it, to enjoy it.

That is what Jesus had before He was born in Bethlehem. That was is existence. And yet, the Bible passage says that He “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Instead of insisting that He remain where He was, that He continue to be attended and served by angels, Jesus decided to come to earth.

Subtraction by Addition
So, that’s the second thing for us to consider: what Jesus did. Jesus humbled Himself. Jesus did not cling to His position on the throne of the universe but stepped down from it to enter our world. We call that the incarnation—Jesus taking on flesh—and it’s what we celebrate tonight. Verse 7 of our text:

7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Now, here is an interesting theological puzzle. When Jesus took on the nature of humanity, we do not believe that He stopped being God. It would be a mistake to say that Jesus’ divinity was something he could take off—like Superman’s cape—and thus He was not God for as long as He was a human being. He was in very nature God, and that didn’t stop during His time on earth.

But at the same time, it would also be a mistake to say that He was only pretending to be human. That the baby born in Bethlehem was somehow alien, and He wasn’t really a flesh and blood person. Because the word translated “very nature of a servant” is the exact same word translated as “very nature of God” in verse 6. Jesus was fully God. And He was fully human.

So how, exactly, does that work? How can God make Himself into less than what He was? As I said, there is mystery here we will never fully understand. But I think I can give you a little bit of an idea. One of my professors at seminary said this is a case of subtraction by addition. It’s a lessening of Jesus that came by adding to Jesus.

Let me illustrate. This is a picture of the most expensive car in the world. It’s the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita, produced by a Swedish manufacturer. It’s the most expensive street-legal production car in the world. It’s worth $4.8 million. Only two of them were ever made.

Why so much coin? With no exaggeration, this car is literally coated with diamonds. Koenigsegg came up with a new exterior finish called the Koenigsegg Proprietary Diamond Weave, which involves coating carbon fibers with a diamond-dust impregnated resin. I can’t even fathom how much the touch-up paint costs.

Fitting with such an elegant body, the car has a 4.8-liter, dual-supercharged V8 with a total output of 1,004 horsepower and 797 pound-feet of torque. I don’t know what any of that means, but the car is very fast. 0 to 62 in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 254 miles per hour.

Now, if you wanted to give me one of these for Christmas, and you wanted to get a really big box and just wrap up the keys, I’d be O.K. with that. You can break Russell’s rule of gift-wrapping for that.

But now, imagine covering this very, very expensive car with mud. That would diminish the car a bit, wouldn’t it? At the very least, it would appear less elegant. This is what I mean by subtraction by addition. You take away from the car by adding the mud.

Now, of course, it doesn’t stop being a fancy car. It still has the diamond encrusted finish and the huge engine and the built-in infotainment system. It’s just not as obvious.

That, however roughly, is an illustration of what Jesus did. By taking on the nature of a human, by coming to earth as a baby, Jesus subtracted from Himself by addition. He made Himself into nothing by the humility of childbirth and the cattle stall and a life lived as a carpenter and itinerant teacher. But He didn’t stop being God. His divine characteristics may have been obscured, but they were still there. The fullness of deity still lived in Him.

But that’s not all the humbling Jesus did. The next verse, verse 8:
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

It’s hard to talk about Jesus’ birth without also talking about His death. Because that’s the trajectory of His life. There are 4 biographies of Jesus in the Bible—the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--and fully half of each book focuses on the final week of Jesus’ life. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jesus was born to die. That the cross was the goal of His time on earth.
But dying on a cross was an utterly humiliating way to die. Let me show you another picture. This is believed to be the earliest known attempt to draw a picture of Jesus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexamenos_graffito

It’s called the Alexamenos Graffito and it was found carved in plaster in Rome. The best dating for it puts it around AD 200. It’s a work of graffiti that shows a man staring up at a crucified figure on a cross. Look closer, and you’ll see that the figure on the cross—who is obviously supposed to be Jesus—has the head of a donkey. Underneath is written, in Greek, “Alexamenos worships God.”

We would say this is blasphemous. It’s obviously meant to mock the notion that anybody would worship someone who died on a cross. But it gives pretty good insight into just how scandalous it was to die by crucifixion.

That’s how much Jesus humbled Himself: from the halls of heaven--where He could visit the crystal caves of Mexico or swim with the Atolla Jellyfish—all the way to earth—where He would be mocked as a donkey on a stick.

But the Bible says that Jesus’ death had a purpose. When He died on the cross, He was substituting Himself for sinners. He went to the cross to take our place.

You see, God has a balance sheet for each and every one of us. And you and I, we are on the wrong side of zero. We are all in the red with God. We owe Him a debt that it is going to take eternity to pay. He’s a holy God. We are unholy people. Each and every sin is an assault on His right to be God. And so the wages of sin is death.

But when Jesus went to the cross it was to pay our debt. He erased the ledger for each and every person who would believe in Him and in its place He stamped “Paid in Full.” It was a humiliating way to die, and Christ humbled Himself far more than we can imagine, but it was the price of our salvation.

Every Knee Shall Bow
So that leaves one question: Why did He do it? Why did Jesus go from the splendor of heaven to the humility of the cross? Why did He come to be born in Bethlehem on that silent, holy night?

The common answer is that He did it for us. He came because He loves us. He saw us in a world lost and broken and He knew that we were destined for destruction, and so He came to rescue us. Probably the best known Bible verse in the world says it like this:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The greatest Christmas present of them all is the gift of God’s Son.

But if we go back to our passage in Philippians, we’ll see that the apostle Paul gives a different answer. It’s not an answer that contradicts John 3:16—it is certainly true that God loves us—but it gives an even fuller picture of what was at stake for Jesus. Verses 9-11:

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So get the journey that Jesus takes in these few verses. He starts at the very height of heaven: “being in very nature God.” But then He humbles Himself. Taking on human flesh He lowers Himself to the germ-infested stable of His birth. And then He goes even lower. In abject humility He is hung on a cross and beaten, mocked and scorned.

But the result is that God takes Him—if it were possible—even higher than He was before. “Exalted…to the highest place.” Given “the name that is above every name.”

Because of His sacrifice, because of His humility in serving us, now those who have been rescued by Him are committed to eternal praise of Him.

Do you have a sense of this? Imagine a sports arena full of thousands of people all standing and cheering because their team has just won. Maybe something like this. This just happens to be a picture of UNI’s arena last year after they beat #1 North Carolina (last year, not this year. This year’s game didn’t go so well.) Everybody shouting at the top of their lungs because their team did well.

Only, picture the whole world as an arena. Picture North Americans and South Americans and Africans and Europeans and Australians and Asians and people from every island in between shouting the name of Jesus and exalting Him, because of what He has done. That’s what Jesus has earned. That’s what Jesus deserves.

Now, let’s go back to the verses one more time. What’s important for us to see is that a day is coming when “every knee will bow” and “every tongue acknowledge.” That means not just those who have put their faith in Jesus and received the gift that God offers, but those who have rejected His gift as well. Everybody is going to one day confess that Jesus is Lord. Everybody is going to one day submit to His rule.

The question is: will they do so joyfully, or under compulsion? Will they bow before Him as grateful subjects who have experienced His salvation? Or will they bow as defeated enemies who realize they were on the wrong side of history?

What about you? Which one will you be?

Will you be someone who has received the gift of Jesus, who recognizes the fullness of deity that lives in Him, and who confesses His name joyfully?

Or will you come to bend your knee too late?

You can decide today. Tonight. You have to opportunity confess Jesus as Lord. To recognize that He is the glorious, holy, creator, King. To receive the gift of salvation He earned when He substituted Himself on the cross. You can benefit from His humility.

Or you can refuse Him. You can dismiss the Christmas story or as a quaint piece of ancient superstition and an excuse for giving gifts. You can keep your heart hardened against Him.

But one day—either willingly or not—your knee will bow.

I hope that you bow your heart to Him today.