The astounding part of Christ’s first coming is not simply that he was—and is!—fully divine, but also that he was—and is!—fully human. The baby in Bethlehem was fully God and fully human. The One through whom the world was created became a servant in order to save us from our sins. In this message from David Platt, we reflect on Philippians 2:7 and the mystery of Christ’s humanity and deity dwelling in one person. The idea that God would come in the form of a servant should fill us with awe, gratitude, and praise.
Let me start by setting the stage. If you weren’t here last week, or if you’re visiting with us today, first, we are so glad you’re here. And second, last week we started a four-week series in one passage in the Bible: Philippians 2:5–11. It comes in the middle of encouragement for the church to look out for one another and love one another selflessly, look out for each other’s interests above our own.
In verse five, the Bible points us to the example of Jesus. What unfolds from there may be the most majestic, breathtaking, awe-inspiring picture of the wonder of Christmas anywhere in the Bible, even though none of the details of the Christmas story are even mentioned. No manger or stable, no Mary or Joseph, no shepherds or wise men. Let me read the whole passage again, starting in verse five. The Bible says:
5 Have 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, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And 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, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Leading up to Christmas, we’re exploring this cave of supernatural treasure one verse at a time. Last week we were in verse six. We talked about how Jesus, this baby born in a manger, was in the form of God and equal with God. We talked about the mystery of the Trinity, one God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, each of Whom is fully God. Specifically last week, we looked at how what we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of God in the flesh. Jesus—this crying, screaming, bed-wetting baby, lying in a manger—is God with us. We talked about how this is the core truth in Christianity. It’s what separates Christianity from Judaism, and Christianity from Islam. That’s verse six. Now verse seven today is going to tell us how and why that happened. The “why” is where I really want to encourage you, particularly if you’re struggling in any way today.
As a side note, can I just mention how proud I am of this church family. Last night, in this building, people from all our different locations hosted a room full of Muslims coming from across our city. You invited Muslim friends, neighbors and coworkers who have come here from all over the world. We had conversations with people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, all across North Africa and the Middle East. Literally a room full of people gathered to hear the gospel, the good news of how God became a man. It was awesome!
So let’s look at verse seven, with the lead-in from verse six: “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.” Wow. What does that mean?
Jesus emptied Himself is clearly something He willingly chose to do. Instead of grasping all that’s involved in equality with God and being in the form of God, He emptied Himself. We know that doesn’t mean He ceased to be God, because—as we saw last week—He was in the form of God, equal with God. So what does this mean, to “empty Himself”?
Verse seven answers that question with two phrases:
One, “by taking the form of a servant.” That’s what it means for Him to empty Himself. He didn’t take off His divinity; He took on the form of a servant. It’s the same word that’s used earlier: the form of God, and the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And two, by “being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus emptied Himself, not by losing something, but by taking on something.
So in these two verses we have a picture of Jesus as one person with two natures. Verse six is talking about His divine nature, as we saw last week. Now verse seven is talking about His human nature, which plunges us again into the deep end of the mystery and majesty of Jesus and of Christmas. Jesus, Who we’ve already seen is fully God, is also fully man. The word here in verse seven for “likeness” means “the same as.” So at a certain point in time, Jesus—Who was fully God—became human, just like you and me, except without sin, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Now think about it. Jesus, God the Son, took on a human body, with flesh and blood and bones, just like us. He was born as a baby. Now here is another opportunity for me to show you a picture of our baby, Mercy, now ten months old. I’m always ready for opportunities to share her picture with you!
This is what Jesus, God the Son, became—a baby. He needed to be fed and changed. He cried when He was tired or hungry. This is where I get my reputation for ruining Christmas carols, which I promise is really not my aim. But “Away in a Manger,” with cattle lowing and “the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes,” is just not true. Newborn babies cry, especially if they wake up next to a cow.
I fully realize that “Screaming night, holy night,” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but what parent in this gathering looks back on the newborn stage and thinks, “Things were so silent and quiet during those days and nights”? No! They were chaotic—and this is part of what emptying Himself means, so we need to make sure we don’t minimize it. Jesus, the Creator, came to creation in a human body, just like ours. He cried, was hungry, thirsty and needed to sleep.
He also had a human mind. This is baffling. As a child, Jesus had to learn, just like we do, to eat, talk, walk, read, write. He had human emotions, just like our emotions. Loneliness, sorrow, troubled in spirit—Jesus embodied the full depth of humanity, just like us. I should add that He still does. Jesus didn’t just temporarily become man. After He died on the cross, He rose from the grave as a person. He ascended into heaven as a person, as a human, where He remains fully human and fully God forever.
Is this mystery not mindboggling and breathtaking? Jesus, as one person with two distinct natures—a human nature and a divine nature.
The mystery is mindboggling
Now, let’s start thinking about the details of the Christmas story. The angel said to Joseph, “Mary will give birth to a son” —that’s His humanity—“and His name will be called Emanuel,” which means God with us. There’s His deity. Even in the virgin birth, His full humanity is on full display, being born from a human mother. His full deity is on display from the miraculous picture of the Holy Spirit enabling Mary to conceive.
Then think about both these natures throughout the Bible. In His human nature, we could say that at points He was five, ten, twenty, thirty years old; in His divine nature He existed eternally. In His human nature, there were times when He was weak and tired; in His divine nature, He possessed omnipotent power.
We saw this in our study of Mark 4. Remember Jesus sleeping in a boat—there’s His human nature. Then He stands up and tells the wind and waves to stop—there’s His divine nature. Even as I mentioned just a few minutes ago, in His human nature, He ascended into heaven and was no longer in the world. In His divine nature, as we talked about last week, He’s with us wherever we go and in whatever we face. In His human nature He had limited knowledge; in His divine nature, He was and is and always will be omniscient, knowing all things.
Are you seeing the mystery of Christmas? Indeed, this is not just a holiday worthy of sleigh bells and stockings. This is the commemoration and celebration of the eternal and the temporal, side by side, the finite and infinite together in one, the Creator as part of creation, the King of heaven learning to crawl. This is mindboggling majesty that is worthy of our wonder and our worship.
The mystery is life changing
This mystery is not just mindboggling—it is life changing, which takes us back to the other phrase here in verse seven. We’ve seen what it means for Jesus to empty Himself by becoming fully human, like us—but why? This is where the wonder goes to a whole other level. Jesus emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant. Doulos is the original word there. It’s the Greek word for slave.
If you’re reading this in the first century, this word immediately puts in your mind the kind of person who has no rights and whose very existence is to serve someone else. Jesus, still in the form of God, took on the form of a slave. Whoa. And this is not the only time the Bible talks about this. In fact, Jesus Himself talks like this, very specifically.
In Mark 10:45, Jesus is talking to His disciples about serving, much like the context of Philippians 2 is about serving each other in the church. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Did you hear that? Are you seeing this? Jesus is telling us why He came. There’s so much we could talk about here and Lord willing we’ll actually come to this passage a couple months from now when we resume our journey through the book of Mark. We’ll be able to dive in deeper then.
But for now, let’s look at three reasons why Jesus became human. Not just physically, but spiritually, I want you to imprint this on your heart. I want to make these personal, so that you hopefully feel this right where you’re sitting right now. Why did Jesus become human? Hear His words.
1. Jesus came to suffer like you
When Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man,” that’s a title He uses throughout the book of Mark to emphasize His humanity, and specifically in Mark, the hardships and sufferings that accompany humanity. Jesus is saying here, “I came to experience what you experience in your humanity.” This is part of why I made the comment earlier about some Christmas carols. I’m not just trying to be light, but if we are not careful, we will picture Jesus as unlike us in ways that He is actually like us. We’ll picture Him as different from us in ways that rob us of the mammoth reality that Jesus specifically came to be like us and to experience what we experience.
Are you tired? Jesus knows what it’s like to be tired. Are you exhausted, weary, burned out or beat down? Jesus experienced all those things. Do you experience emotional distress? So did Jesus. Do you experience physical pain? So did Jesus. Do you experience relational hurt? So did Jesus. He was alienated, betrayed, criticized, denied and ultimately condemned. Do you ever feel broken? Jesus was broken. Do you grieve? Jesus grieved. Do you sometimes cry out because you feel like you can’t take it anymore? Jesus was full of sorrows, crying out to God the Father in desperation, even asking the question we’re all familiar with: why?
Whatever physical, emotional, relational hurt or weariness you have, hear this: you do not have a God Who is distant from what you’re feeling; You have a God Who is familiar with what you’re walking through on deep levels. This is why Corrie ten Boom could cry from the depths of a Nazi death camp, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.” Jesus came to this fallen world as a man to suffer like you. The language Hebrews 4:15 uses is to “sympathize with us in our weaknesses.” Not only does Jesus see what you’re walking through right now, He is able to understand and identify with you in it. Jesus suffered all the way to the point of death, which brings us to the second reason Jesus came.
2. Jesus came to sacrifice His life for you
We’re going to talk about this more next week when we get to Philippians 2:8 on how Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient even to death on a cross. What a phrase!
In verse seven, I just want to point out today how Jesus’ full humanity is necessary for Jesus to give His life for us. The word “for” here, and in Mark 10:45, literally means “instead of” or “in the place of.” In order for Jesus to die for us as people, He had to be like us as a person. The Bible makes this crystal clear in Hebrews 2:17. Talking about Jesus, it says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers”—like every other man and woman in humanity— “in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
In other words, if Jesus was not fully human like us, He could not have paid the penalty due us as humans. He had to experience temptation just like we do, overcoming that temptation to the full, then dying in our place. For those of you who are not yet Christians—maybe you’re visiting today, exploring Christianity—this is the core truth at the center of the Bible. This is what Christmas is all about. We have all been created by God for relationship with Him, but we have sinned against Him. The Bible uses the word for how every one of us has turned aside. It looks different in each of our lives, but we’ve all turned aside from God and His ways to ourselves and our own ways. Our sin has separated us from God in such a way that if we die in this state of sin and separation from God, we’ll spend eternity experiencing judgment due our sin.
However, the good news of the Bible is that God loves you so much that He has come to you. This is what we’re talking about. He came to live the life you could not live, a life without sin. Even though He had no sin for which to die, He came to die for you, to pay the price on the cross for you. Instead of you and me, He died the death we deserved to die. Then the good news just keeps getting better. He didn’t stay dead for long. Three days later He rose from the grave, conquering the enemy we cannot conquer on our own. This is Jesus. And no matter who you are or what you have done, if you will place your trust in Jesus, God will forgive you of all your sin and restore you to relationship with Him for all of eternity. We invite you to make today the day when you believe this good news in your life. Receive this gift. It’s waiting for you today.
These first two truths are obviously awesome, but this next one is the one takes the cake. This is the truth that is sustaining me and it has the power to sustain you. But I’m going to go ahead and warn you, the language I’m about to use almost feels wrong to say. But I’m going to say it, because Jesus said it, and is saying it in Philippians 2:7. So why did Jesus come and take on human flesh? Why was He born in the likeness of men?
3. Jesus came to be your Servant
Or to use the original word from Philippians 2:7, Jesus came to be your slave. This is straight from His mouth here in Mark 10:45: “Even the Son of Man” —He’s talking about Himself—“I did not come to be served. I came to serve.” It’s interesting that the word Jesus uses in Mark 10 is not slave. This word literally means to wait on tables. So get this. When Jesus looked for a word to describe why He came to you and me, He said, “I came to wait on you.” Think about that. You go to a restaurant. Someone comes to your table and asks, “How can I help you? What can I get you? I’m here to serve you.” Jesus says, “That’s why I came. How can I help you? What can I get you? I’m your Servant.”
This is Jesus, God in the flesh, saying this to you and to me. This is lunacy. No religious teacher talks like this. We’re supposed to serve deity; this is deity in the flesh saying, “I’m here to serve you.” It sounds crazy, until we realize this is not crazy—this is Christianity. This is Christ.
Jesus did not come as a potentate whose personal whims are to be catered to by lowly servants. Jesus came to be the lowly Servant for you, right where you’re sitting right now. Jesus is said to His followers then, and to you and me today, “I did not come to be served by you. In My relationship with you, I’m the Servant. I serve you. I work for you. I wait on you.” Doesn’t that sound almost blasphemous to say?
Now, let’s be clear what the Bible doesn’t mean when it calls Jesus our Servant. The Bible doesn’t mean we tell Jesus to do whatever we want Him to do, then He does it, as if we have authority over Him. This certainly doesn’t discount all the times the Bible calls followers of Jesus “servants” of Jesus. We could spend a ton of time on this, but follow what Jesus is saying here in Mark 10. Just think about it. This is in a sense the essence of Christianity, yet so many Christians miss it.
Think about how you become a Christian. How do you become a follower of Christ? The whole Christian life starts at the moment when you or I stop trying to serve God, instead we trust God to serve us. Right? The Christian life begins when you realize you have sin in your heart against God and there’s no amount of good you can do to cover over that. Christianity is not a list of things to do. Pray this amount of time. Read the Bible. Go to church. Do all these things, then you’ll earn your way to God. No. That misses the whole point. You can’t cover over your sin on your own. You need God to serve you. You need Jesus’ sacrifice to cover over the stain of sin in your life. Jesus says, “I came to serve you.” And when we trust Him to serve us in this way, that’s when you or I become a Christian.
But here’s the deal. Once we’ve become a Christian, we don’t then move on from this, as if we don’t need Jesus to serve us anymore. Jesus did not come just to serve us once, to save us from the penalty of sin once, then we figure out everything else from there—which is how a lot of people view the Christian life and experience the Christian life. That misses the whole point. Jesus didn’t come just to save you; He came to serve you every single day.
So let’s put this all together from Philippians 2:6-7. Just as truly as Jesus existed in the form of God, Jesus exists in the form of a servant for you. It’s the whole reason He came and was born. Jesus became like you and me, in order to serve you and me. So make the connection. When you’re tired, weak, burned out, beat down, discouraged or depressed, hear what Jesus is saying to you. God in the flesh is saying, “I’m here to serve you.” He is saying right now, “I’m here to wait on you, with strength to get you through today, with peace that passes all understanding and with joy that supersedes your circumstances.” Jesus says, “I’m here to serve you. That’s the reason I came.”
This is what Christmas is about. It’s about Jesus, God in the flesh, coming to you and me and all in the weary world, and saying right now, “I exist as your Servant.”
So earlier I showed that picture of our daughter, Mercy. I want to show you a couple other pictures as well. Yesterday I was out at MBC Arlington for the memorial service of little Ruby Mae. Ruby’s mom and dad, Stephanie and Kinard, have been a faithful part of MBC for several years. Ruby was born about a week before Mercy with a congenital heart disease, which eventually led to surgeries, severe brain and kidney injuries, fractured bones and countless other challenges. Almost exactly a month ago, actually when Stephanie and Kinard thought they were about to bring her home, Ruby unexpectedly and suddenly breathed her last breath.
I sat at the memorial service yesterday near Brady and Jillian whose son, Caelum, was born this past summer, also with a host of medical challenges, primarily with his heart and brain. After 55 days in Children’s Hospital, right down the hall from Ruby Mae—these two families from our church right there together—and after some sweet memories God provided in Caelum’s hospital room, baby Caelum breathed his last breath.
I do not know, pretend to understand or am able to explain why these precious couples went through this. We live in a fallen, weary, painful world with all kinds of questions for which we do not have answers. But we do know we have a God Who exists to serve us in the middle of the hurt, the pain and the questions. I don’t presume for a second that this truth takes away the hurt and pain, nor answers all their questions. But I do know, based on my time with these two couples yesterday, that this truth provides hope in the middle of it all. The Bible is telling us, God is telling us today, that He was Ruby’s Servant and Caelum’s Servant, because the Bible clearly teaches that when that little baby girl and that little baby boy breathed their last breath in that hospital, God Himself was there to serve their little bodies in such a way that in the next instant, they woke up to glory with Him in heaven.
And for their moms and dads, Stephen, Kinard, Brady and Jillian, in the middle of the hurt, pain and all the questions, you can know that God Himself is your Servant, He exists to wait on you, to provide you with everything you need in the days ahead. That’s the reason He came. Jesus came to serve Stephanie, Kinard, Ruby, Brady, Jillian and Caelum.
The good news of Christmas is that Jesus came to serve you, right where you’re sitting right now, to wait on you, to be your Servant. I don’t know what you’re walking through in your life right now, but the good news of Christmas is that Jesus does. He knows, He sees and He’s able to sympathize. Hear God speaking to you right now. Jesus, the mysterious, majestic God in the flesh, is with you right now to serve you. This is Christianity. This is Christmas. Mark it down.
There is coming a day in your humanity when you will breathe your last breath. You don’t know when. It could be today for any one of us. It could be years from now. But whenever that moment comes, all who are in Jesus can know in that moment, when your heart and lungs fail, the fully human, fully divine Son of God Who conquered death will serve you and lead you into eternal life with Him. All glory be to Christ Jesus, Who being in the very form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. So trust Him to serve you.
Will you bow your heads with me? Have you trusted Jesus to serve you? If you’ve never come to that point in your life, I invite you to let this moment be that point. God is speaking to your heart, saying, “I love you. I’ve come to sacrifice My life for you and serve you, now and for all of eternity. Trust Me to serve you.” Just say in your heart, “Yes, God, I need You to serve me. I need You to save me from my sin. Jesus, I need You to cover over the stain of sin in my heart. I trust You to serve me with everything I need. Now and forever, I trust You as my Servant and Savior.”
For all who have expressed that to God—maybe years ago—can we just say it again in a fresh way today? Jesus, we trust You to serve us. I trust You for everything that Stephen, Kinard, Brady and Jillian need, for everything that every single heart in this gathering right now needs, that You are sufficient to serve our deepest needs. So we pray that You do it. I just pray this over every single person within the sound of my voice right now. God, please, serve them with everything they need. Help them to hear Your love for them now. I think about our church Bible Reading Plan today in Zephaniah 3, You quiet us with Your love. Would You quiet hearts with Your love, hope, and peace that passes all understanding? May they make it through because You are with them and for them. I pray that You would help them hold on to You as their Servant. Help us hold on to You as our Servant. In Jesus’ majestic, mysterious, wonderful name we pray. Amen.