************ Sermon on Philippians 2:7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 7, 2018
"How Did Christ Empty Himself?"
Difficult Passages #17
Our pew Bibles say Christ "made himself nothing" (NIV84). Another translation says Christ "emptied himself" (NASB95, ESV) This evening we want to ask: How did Christ make Himself nothing, how did He empty Himself, in what way did He empty Himself? The Greek word is "kenosis." Kenosis means "empty." So, what we are looking at tonight is the kenosis doctrine.
I Misconceptions About Christ Emptying Himself
Let's start with some misconceptions of kenosis, some wrong answers to our questions.
Misconception 1 says Jesus emptied Himself of His Deity; it says Jesus ceased to be God when He came to earth. Meaning that Jesus was merely a man when He was on earth and nothing more. Further meaning He was a fallible human being with limitations just like the rest of us. The Bible does not say that God changed into a man but rather that God became man without ceasing to be God.
Misconception 2 says Jesus emptied Himself of some of His divine attributes when He came to earth: Attributes like being all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present. At the same time He kept other divine attributes: Attributes like holiness, love, and truth.
Misconception 3 says that when Jesus emptied Himself He no longer knew He was God. All the attributes of Deity remained with Him but He simply was not aware of them. If that was the case, why did Jesus say "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). And, why did Jesus say at the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane that He could summon ten thousand angels to stop those taking Him?
Misconception 4 says that when Jesus emptied Himself He acted as though He did not possess divine attributes. That is, He pretended to be less than He really was.
Misconception 5 says that when Jesus emptied Himself He set aside the use of His divine attributes. Really? So He didn't change water into wine? So He didn't multiply the fish and loaves? So He didn't command the wind and waves to be still? So He didn't heal the centurion's servant from a distance?
It is misconceptions, wrong answers, like these that make our text one of the difficult passages of the Bible.
Back to our question: How did Christ make Himself nothing, how did He empty Himself, in what way did He empty Himself?
II Who Jesus is from Eternity
A We need to start with verse 6 in order to correctly understand the kenosis doctrine.
It says in verse 6, "Who, being in very nature God ..." Or, as the footnote at the bottom of our pew Bibles puts it, "Who, being in the form of God ..." That's where the incarnation begins. That's where kenosis begins. Jesus has the nature of God; Jesus has the form of God.
You and I have the form, the nature, of a human. We were conceived as humans, born as humans, raised as humans, and someday will die as humans. Our nature, our form, is not plant, not animal, not something inanimate like a rock. Our nature, our form, is human.
A couple of months ago a van full of nicely dressed men and women descended on my subdivision. "Oh, Oh," I thought to myself, "here comes the JWs." Sure enough my doorbell rang. By now you all should know their message: they say Jesus is NOT God. That's the message of the Jehovah's Witnesses: Jesus is NOT God. This is nothing but a denial of what lies at the center of the Christian faith. This is nothing but a denial of what is taught in our Bible reading. Jesus, my brothers and sisters, has the nature of God, the form of God (cf (Jn 1:1-3,14; Col 1:15-17). Don't let any heretic tell you otherwise.
B The next word in verse 6 we need to look at is "equality." The word means exactly equal in size, quantity, quality, character, number, and so on.
We have to be that way with our kids and grandkids when we give them a piece of cake or pie. To make sure they get equal pieces, one of them gets to do the cutting and the other gets to do the choosing.Jesus is equal with God. Exactly equal. He is God. That's what Paul is saying.
III The Humiliation of Christ
A Jesus has the form of God, the nature of God. Jesus is equal with God.
Now watch as Paul tells us about the humiliation of He Who is so great and awesome. What does Jesus do with His equality? Here is the first step in His humiliation. According to verse 6, He didn't grasp it. He didn't seize it. He didn't clutch it. He didn't hold on to it. Though His are all the rights and privileges and honors of being God, He didn't cling to it. He yielded it up for our sakes. That's the attitude of humility that begins the incarnation. It begins with a total lack of selfishness on the part of the second person of the Triune Godhead.
B Verse 7 describes step 2 of Christ's humiliation. What did He do? He "made himself nothing." He "emptied himself." Kenosis. You need to see this in contrast to what we are told in verse 6. He didn't clutch or hang on to His equality with God; instead, He emptied Himself. He made Himself nothing. Kenosis.
Kenosis. A very graphic expression. What we are to see is self-renunciation. Self-denial. A refusal to use and to do what was rightfully His. A refusal to cling to His rights and advantages and privileges as God. Can you imagine this? God Who owns everything, Who can do everything, Who has a right to do everything, emptied Himself. Made Himself nothing. Kenosis.
But now back to our opening questions. How did Christ make Himself nothing, how did He empty Himself, in what way did He empty Himself? We can answer this in two ways. First, in terms of what Jesus gave up. And, second, in terms of what Jesus took on.
C What did Jesus give up? First of all, and this is a no-brainer, Jesus gave up His heavenly glory. And what a glory He gave up. The Apostle John tries to describe it: a throne, seated on the throne was one with the appearance of jasper and carnelian, encircling the throne was an emerald rainbow, surrounding the throne were 24 other thrones with 24 elders, before the throne were seven blazing lamps, around the throne were four living creatures, before the throne was a sea of crystal. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder (cf Rev 4). Glory. Awesome glory. Marvelous glory. Jesus gave this all up. He gave up all of the shining brilliance of heaven for the dark shadows of earth. He gave up His glory for the darkness of this world. He gave up the worship of the angels and elders and living creatures for the mocks and jeers and rejection of men. He gave up all of the shining brilliance of the glories of heaven for us. That's why Jesus cried out,
(Jn 17:5) And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.He gave up the glory of heaven. And the riches of heaven. And the perfection of heaven. As Paul puts it,
(2 Cor 8:9) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Maybe we should say He veiled His glory when He came to earth. Because every once in a while, a corner of the veil was lifted and the glory of heaven shown through. We see a glimpse of His glory, the glory of heaven, on the Mount of Transfiguration. We see glimpses of His glory in all the miracles He performed. We even see glimpses of His glory on the cross. And, we certainly see His glory on Easter Sunday.
What did Jesus give up when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing? The second answer is that He gave up His independent authority. During His earthly ministry, Jesus completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father. He was "obedient" says verse 8. "Obedient to death." So in the Garden of Gethsemane He prays, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39). Obedience. On the part of Him Who has God's nature. On the part of Him Who is God's equal. Kenosis.
What did Jesus give up when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing? The third answer is that He put aside His divine attributes. Did He stop being omniscient? No. Did He stop being omnipresent? No. Did He stop being all-powerful? No. Did He stop being God? No. He did not stop being anything. But He limited His use of the incommunicable attributes of God so that He could say He does not know the day or the hour of the second coming (Mt 24:36).
Kenosis. He emptied Himself. He made Himself nothing. He gave up so much.
D And Jesus also added something, He took on something, when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing.
What did Jesus add when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing. First of all, and this is a no-brainer, Jesus added to Himself a human nature. He was "found in appearance as a man." Jesus had a body like all other men except it was without sin. Now He needed to eat, rest, and sleep. He could feel pain, bleed, and die. As a man, He could only be at one place at a time. He was like us, His brothers and sisters, in every way.
What did Jesus add when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing? The second answer is that He who knew no sin became sin for us (cf 2 Cor 5:21). Which means He also added to Himself God's wrath and judgment and punishment against sin.
What did Jesus add when He emptied Himself, when He made Himself nothing? The third answer is that Jesus took the nature, the form, of a servant. A servant. A better translation is slave. Slaves had no property of their own; rather, they were property. So Jesus, Who is Master and Owner of everything, became poor for our sakes. He had to borrow a place to be born, a stable. He had no home so he had to borrow a place to lay His head. He had to borrow a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. He had to borrow another boat to preach from. He had to borrow a donkey to ride into Jerusalem as King of kings and Lord of lords. He had to borrow a room for the Passover. He had to borrow a tomb to be buried in. He had the right to everything, yet His was nothing. He took on poverty.
E Jesus has the form of God, the nature of God. Jesus is equal with God. He did not grasp His equality with God. And, He emptied Himself, made Himself nothing. Which means He gave up so much and added so much. He did this out of love, out of self-giving love, out of self-denying love.
Now, if we had planned this, we would never have allowed Him to be humiliated. We certainly would not have let Him be born in a stable to a family in poverty. We would not have raised Him in Nazareth of Galilee. We would not have allowed Judas or any of the others to be His disciples. We would have imprisoned or executed anyone who spit on Him or slapped Him or mocked Him or drove nails through His hands and feet.
Now, if we had planned this, we would have done it very differently. And, and, we would not be saved. The kenosis is necessary, absolutely and completely necessary, for our salvation. No kenosis, no salvation. No kenosis, no forgiveness. No kenosis, no justification. No kenosis, no relationship with God.
Did you know that what we have in front of us this evening is an early Christian song, a hymn of Christ? Which means the words in front of us are used in the worship of God. Who is the God we worship? Yes, He has the nature of God, the form of God. Yes, He is God's equal. But He is also the God Who emptied Himself, Who made Himself nothing. We praise Him for being this kind of God. We sing to Him Who is this kind of God.
Now, did you catch how Paul introduces this hymn of Christ? He says, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Or, as another translation puts it, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ..." We are told to put on Christ in the same way as we put on clothing.
Notice what this means. Those who worship Christ strive, like Him, to empty themselves, to make themselves nothing. They practice a self-giving love, a self-denying love. They are all about the good of the other rather than their own good. Like Him, they are willing to be rejected and humiliated.
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ..." Jesus became like us so that someday we will become like Him -- not only sharing in His sufferings but also sharing in His glory.
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