Having the Mind of Christ at Christmas
In a recent interview with R.C. Sproul, Mark Driscoll asked the brilliant theologian what he believed would be the biggest theological battle to face in the upcoming years. After some thought, Sproul believed, “I think the biggest theological issue of our day … is Christology—our understanding of the person and work of Christ. Now, I could have come at it another way and said ‘the gospel,’ but at the heart of the gospel is the person and work of Christ—who He is and what He’s done.” He went on to say that for much of church history, the person and work of Christ has been under attack—but now it’s under attack within Evangelicalism. As the person and work of Christ goes, so goes Christianity.
What is interesting is that many in our culture love Jesus. Dan Kimball recently wrote a book called They Love Jesus But Hate the Church, we see that many love Jesus, but it’s the Jesus of pop culture, not the Bible. Another once wrote, “God made us in his image, and today we are returning the favor.” The same could be said about Jesus.
Some try to lessen the work of Christ by separating him from the Scriptures (“I love Jesus, but not the Bible”) or from His church (as Dan Kimball wrote in a book titled, “They Love Jesus, But Hate the Church”). Others look to cast Jesus in whatever light of their own personal preference. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, reflecting their own views, saw Jesus as a great moral philosopher but nothing else. As early America moved West, he was seen as a great frontiersman. In the late 19th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution when the men went off to the factories to work, Jesus was portrayed with children and sheep in an almost feminine light—reflected much by the fact that women became the primary teachers of religious instruction. In the 1960’s, he was portrayed as a revolutionary and a radical against the establishment.
Today, we had a WWJD campaign, but we see the environmentalists having their own WWJD campaign (“What would Jesus drive?). Other Bible publishers portrayed Jesus as a sympathizer of America in a recently release version called the American Patriot’s Bible. The point is, there is no end to how we as Americans look at Jesus. Look at how Stephen Prothero begins his book American Jesus:
Every Christmas, in towns and cities across the United States, Jesus is reborn in Nativity scenes erected on public property. Almost as regularly, civil libertarians challenge the constitutionality of these public displays of religion, forcing the courts to consider yet again how to interpret the First Amendment. Underlying this question of constitutional jurisprudence is the equally vexing matter of the religious character of the nation: is the United States a religious country or a secular state? Is it Christian? Judeo-Christian? Or, as President George W. Bush has suggested an Abrahamic nation under on Judeo-Christian-Islamic God?”
What we need to make more sure of is not whether America is a Christian nation or not, but whether we as her people are Christian or not!
So let us look at some of the Scripture’s high Christological passages, this one regarding the mind of Christ at Christmas to recapture what God’s Word says about His Son!
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
1. He created His people.
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In this, Christ put off the robes of glory. In John 12:37-42, we see that Jesus was the king of glory seen in Isaiah 6. Jesus was truly ‘high and lifted up’! We see from John that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus was eternal (“in the beginning”—see Genesis 1:1), he had a distinct personality (he was with God), but he also was deity (“the Word was God”).
And yet he came! He was (huparcho) in the form (morphe) of God. From all eternity, this was the case and would always be the case. He is so glorious that we see from Colossians 1:17 that all things were created by Him and for Him and in Him all things hold together (see also John 1:3).
You see, when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth and when we celebrate Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection Sunday, rather), we have to really understand where he came from! He’s our Creator! And we will see next week how he is the head of the church—His body!
2. He came to His people.
So seeing that He is Holy God, creator of all things—how mysterious and wonderful it is to see him who was equal with God make himself “nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). We sing about this in our hymnals during the Christmas season:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see
Hail th’incarnate Deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Immanuel.
One of the great questions unbelievers ask is, “How could Jesus become fully a man, but still be God?” It’s a valid question! We know that God is eternal, holy, without limit, all-powerful, all-knowing, immutable, and sovereign over all things. A cursory look at Jesus’ life, we see that he was born of a virgin, and he died on a cross. Is God born? Does God die? We also see that Jesus was hungry, thirsty, grew weary, was afraid—even at one point said that he did not know when He would return! No wonder so many struggle with this.
The term “made himself nothing” comes from the Greek kenoo which means to “empty oneself,” usually of one’s reputation. This is exactly what Jesus did—and he did it for the purpose of rescuing us. He exchanged being in the presence of His Father and the angels to go, shall we say, on a 33-year missions trip where he became as one of his creation.
There is a story of a missionary who described a certain tribe in Africa who, like many other tribes, had a chief. You could tell this man was the chief by a number of ways other than the great headdress and robes.
In that tribe, they had a well that provided water for the entire tribe. The well had to be a certain depth. If it was too deep, no one could retrieve it, but if it was too shallow, there would be a risk of waste—and thus, a lack of enough water for the tribe. They determined a depth that would be the ‘happy medium,’ if you will. They would have holes on the side of the well that would serve as steps. That way, the men could use them as steps to climb down into the well and get the water needed for their family.
One time, a man tried to do this, but slipped and fell down to the bottom of the well, breaking his leg. He was trapped. They needed someone strong enough to rescue this man. So they called for the chief. He examined the situation, then did something that showed why he was the chief. He took off his headdress and his robes and climbed down the well. When he reached the bottom, he put the weight of that man on his back and climbed out, bringing him to his rescue. Only the chief was strong enough to bear that weight and bring him out, showing another reason why the chief was the chief!
See, the chief, even though he took off those robes and headdress to condescend to that mission to rescue us, never ceased to be the chief. So too when Christ took off the robes of glory and put on robes of flesh for those 33 years, he never ceased to be God the Son. He willing laid aside some of his abilities to go on this rescue mission!
3. He cared for His people.
In Philippians 2:8, it says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus went from the highest and most exalted place to the lowest and most despicable place. He humbled himself by being born to a peasant family in the tiny town of Bethlehem—a family soon running from Herod’s order of genocide to all males two and under. He submitted to the ravages of humanity: hungering, thirsting, fatigue, sorrow. He even submitted to his earthly parents as God the Son! And, as Paul points out, he even became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In Deuteronomy, the Law says, “A hanged man is cursed by God” (Deut 21:23). Now, in the New Testament, Paul says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The Roman cross, reserved for a criminal, has now become the symbol of the church—not a manger, not a carpenter’s bench, not a boat, but the cross. We have a cross in our baptistry, one alighting the steeple, and some may even have them hanging around your neck or on the walls in your house. Why? John Stott observes:
The fact that a cross became the Christian symbol, and that Christians stubbornly refused, in spite of the ridicule, to discard it in favor of something less offensive, can have only one explanation. It means that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself. It was out of loyalty to him that his followers clung so doggedly to this sign.
Jesus humbled himself to atone for our sins as our substitute. To say he died for our sins is correct. But that’s like saying, “My car runs on fuel.” It’s true, but there is so much more behind how that’s accomplished. There are so many different factors and variables at play that it’s stunning any of it took place. It’s fascinating—and well worth exploring!
We were guilty before our righteous Creator. Though we could not do anything to relieve our guilt, Jesus came and paid that ransom on the cross to satisfy God’s righteous anger against us. “He made him to be sin who knew no sin,” Paul wrote the Corinthian church, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus was “humbled.” And that is why God calls us as Christians to humility—if they are in Christ, then they will have the mind of Christ. Look with me at Philippians 2:1-4
1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Jesus could have stayed in heaven, kept on those robes of glory and maintained his status. But he didn’t. We needed to be rescued. Michael Horton notes:
The goal of the cross was not simply to punish but to restore. If we dig beneath all the symptoms of our troubled lives and our distressed world, the root of it all is a broken covenant. That is the wound that the cosmos cannot heal, but that God has healed by establishing peace through the cross of his Son. We will never exhaust the richness of this gospel because it reverberates into every nook and cranny of our lives, our history, and our world.
Do we have this mind of Christ? Do we see the cross as a route to encouragement, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit that indwells every believer in Jesus? Do we have the same mind, the same love, being in full accord of one mind? Or do we have rivalry, looking to ourselves more than others? Is that having the mind of Christ?
4. We confess Christ to the people.
Paul closes out this great passage by saying:
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God sent Him low (the cross) then exalted him high (the crown). Michael Emlet makes it clear that “the coming of the kingdom in Jesus Christ is the climax of the biblical story. . . . Grace comes to people at the cost of his life. The way of the cross remains the pattern for our lives until Jesus returns to bring an end to sin and suffering.” He is the point of it all. He told the disciples in Luke 24:27 “all that the Law and Prophets spoke of Him.” His name is the highest, the greatest, and the one through whom every person on earth will bow in submission.
The question is, When?
The word ‘confess’ (exomologeo) means to acknowledge, to profess, to give one honor. It can mean to ‘acknowledge joyfully.’ But notice who is confessing: “in heaven” (yes, the angels worship and adore Him—see Isaiah 6:1-3), “on earth” (those on earth who have surrendered to Jesus), and those “under the earth” (even those in the grave and in hell?).
Now, does this mean that everyone will be saved, submitting to Jesus as Lord? Hardly! Hebrews 9:27 clearly says, “It is destined for man to die once, and after that the judgment.” When Paul begged the Philippians to “let your walk be in a manner worthy of the gospel,” he is saying, “Walk as if Jesus is your Master—walk showing who you are, a child transformed and justified by grace through faith! Live in light of the great payment He paid on the cross to take our guilt, thus having God declare us righteous!
R.C. Sproul and Mark Driscoll, What is the Biggest Upcoming Theological Battle? Accessed 2 December 2009; available at http://theresurgence.com/biggest-theological-battle [on-line]; Internet.
Dan Kimball, They Love Jesus But Hate the Church
Brendan Miniter, “What Would Jesus Drive?” (November 25, 2002). Accessed 2 December 2009; available at http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/bminiter/?id=110002680 [on-line]; Internet.
The American Patriot’s Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009). Accessed 2 December 2009; available at http://www.americanpatriotsbible.com/.
Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003), 3.
See Matthew Henry, Commentary on Philippians. Here is his divine nature: Who being in the form of God (v. 6), partaking of the divine nature, as the eternal and only begotten Son of God. This agrees with Jn. 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God: it is of the same import with being the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), and the brightness of his glory, and express image of his person, Heb. 1:3. He thought it no robbery to be equal with God; did not think himself guilty of any invasion of what did not belong to him, or assuming another’s right. He said, I and my Father are one, Jn. 10:30. It is the highest degree of robbery for any mere man or mere creature to pretend to be equal with God, or profess himself one with the Father. This is for a man to rob God, not in tithes and offerings, but of the rights of his Godhead, Mal. 3:8. Some understand being in the form of God–en morphe Theou hyparchon, of his appearance in a divine majestic glory to the patriarchs, and the Jews, under the Old Testament, which was often called the glory, and the Shechinah.
Bryan Chapell, Using Illustrations with Power
John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), 25.
Michael S. Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 82.
Michael Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2009), 44, 46.
BYM Morphology + Gingrich. BibleWorks 7