Who was the baby born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago? The answer to that question divides people into the various religions of the world, and it also determines where everyone will spend eternity. In this message from Philippians 2:5–6, David Platt points us to the astounding reality that Jesus Christ is fully divine—God the Son—and yet he took on flesh to save us. Though we cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, we can know God truly as he has revealed himself in his Word.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Philippians 2. Indeed, the Christmas season is upon us. Let’s be honest, we’re pretty confused. Think about it. What images come to mind when we think of Christmas?
A nice warm home, maybe with a fireplace or a family feast. Maybe with snow on the ground outside. If it’s going to be this cold, at least some snow. Gifts around a tree. People of all ages playing with all kinds of new toys. Parties; lights of all colors. Special songs about mistletoe and reindeer, one of whom has a red nose.
Don’t you think all of this is an odd way to celebrate a relatively poor couple going through the pain of childbirth in a dirty stable? No toys in sight. No lights, except for one star shining above. The only music was the song of angels in the distance. No wonder it’s easy for us to miss the point of Christmas.
My aim is not to sound cliché—“Don’t forget Christ in Christmas—”—because even in the church, with the focus on Christ, we can still miss the point. We can talk about Mary and Joseph, wise men and shepherds, the stable and an inn. We can talk about all kinds of circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. As important as those things are, they’re not the point either.
The wonder of Christmas is not found primarily in the details surrounding the birth of Jesus. Instead, the wonder of Christmas is found primarily in the identity of this baby in a manger. This is where the wonder really lies: in the surprising, shocking, perplexing, mind-boggling reality that God came to us in the form of a crying, screaming, bed-wetting baby, Who was unable to do more than lie down and stare and wiggle and make noises. A baby, Who needed to be fed, changed and taught, like every single one of us has needed at one time.
Who is this baby in the manger? That’s a historic question that was debated from the first days of the church. It’s the decisive question that drives the wedge between Christianity and Judaism, between Christianity and Islam. It has caused all kinds of cults to rise. It’s a critical question. Really, it’s the most staggering claim in all of Christianity, that Jesus was and is God in human form.
Think about it. Once you grant that Jesus is God, all other stories about Jesus make sense. Jesus walking on water is not too surprising, if He’s the God Who made the water. Or Jesus feeding over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish is not too shocking, if He’s the One Who made the stomachs of every single person eating the meal. Jesus healing people of disease, casting out demons, even rising from the dead. If Jesus is God in the flesh, what’s astounding is not that He rose from the grave, it’s that He even died in the first place, right?
Everything in Christianity hinges on this awesome question—”Who is Jesus?” If Jesus is God, if this baby is God, this is definitely a truth far too amazing to drown out with sleighbells and stockings. This is a truth worthy of awe and wonder and solemn worship. And it’s a personal question, because the answer to this question carries ramifications for every single one of us in this gathering right now and for all of eternity.
So here’s the plan. Over the course of the next few weeks leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we’re going to go to one passage in the Bible that, I believe more than any other, describes the wonder of Christmas. The interesting thing is that this passage contains no Christmas scenery. Bethlehem is not even mentioned. Neither are shepherds, wise men or angels, Joseph or Mary, mangers or oxen—none of them even appear in this passage.
In fact, this text comes in the middle of an exhortation for the church to humbly come together in love for one another, looking out for each other’s interests. Look at it with me. Philippians 2:1-5:
1 So 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. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
What a picture! God, calling His church to be unified in Christ, to have the same mind and the same love. What is that mind? That “which is yours in Christ Jesus.” All those who are in Christ— who believe in Him and have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord of their lives—you have the mind of Christ. It’s yours. And thus begins, in the next verse, what may be the most profound statement of the Christmas story in all the Bible. F.B. Meyer, a preacher of old, said, “The verses that follow this are unapproachable in their unexampled majesty.”
5 …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.
So here’s what we’re going to do. Throughout December, we’re going to mine this cave of wonder in Philippians 2:5-11. We’re going to discover four truths about this baby born in a manger and we’re going to see—and I hope feel, in a fresh way—not just majesty, wonder and awe, but the massive implications of Who Jesus is amidst whatever is going on in your life, in your family, at your work, and in the world around us right now. All it’s going to take today for this to happen is one verse: verse six. “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a things to be grasped.” Let me go ahead and read verse seven, just to make the connection: “But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So this baby, born in a manger 2,000 years ago, was in the form of God. What does that mean? Well, the word translated right before this—“was”—is huparcho. Let’s make a connection here to get the essence of what the Bible is saying here. Hupo means under and arche, which means beginning. We would get words like archaic from that.
It basically means that Jesus has existed from the beginning in the form of God. The Bible clarifies what that means when it says that Jesus, from the beginning, was equal with God. Jesus has existed from the beginning in the form of God and equal with God. This is not the only time the Bible talks this way about Jesus. Here are just a few examples.
In John’s account of Jesus’ life, he doesn’t tell us any of the details surrounding Jesus’ birth, in terms of Joseph and Mary and the manger. Instead, this is how he starts in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word…” The Word here is how John refers to Jesus, as the revelation of God. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
So in the beginning, before anything was made, Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. Which is why later in John, right before Jesus goes to the cross, He prays in John 17:4-5, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” In a similar way, Colossians 1:15-17 describes Jesus this way:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The image of the invisible God, the One Who created all things, and in whom all things hold together. Then another passage, Hebrews 1:1-3, tells us:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Do you hear what the Bible is clearly teaching in all these places? Going back to Philippians 2:6, Jesus is God. He exists and has always existed in the form of God. He is equal with God. This baby born in a manger is God, here with us and in the flesh.
Let’s go to one more place. Go back to John 1:14, where John says, “And the Word” —Who was with God and is God— “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
How are we to understand this? Even here we’re seeing God described as both the Father and the Son, which leads us to what the Bible teaches us about the mystery of the Trinity. Now, I use that word “mystery” intentionally. The Trinity—the truth that one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is a mystery. It’s not a contradiction, which would be a condition in which at least two things are truly contrary to each other. It’s not a paradox, where you have two things that you don’t think go together as soon as you hear it, but maybe they do. Like jumbo shrimp, or Microsoft Works…sorry, sorry. No offense.
So it’s not a contradiction, not a paradox, but a mystery—a truth that our minds cannot comprehend, but we accept by faith. One theologian named J. Robin Williams said, “Because all Christian doctrines relate to God, Who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, there will inevitably be some element of mystery or transcendence that cannot be reduced to human understanding.” John Calvin put it this way: “A man, with all his shrewdness, is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God as a donkey is incapable of understanding musical harmony.”
A mystery is a hard thing for us to swallow in our pride. A.W. Tozer said, “We are all inclined to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get God where we can use Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. But God is greater than any of us could ever comprehend or certainly control.” And just because we can’t comprehend God completely doesn’t mean we can’t know God truly, because God has made Himself known to us in this way.
If you’ve ever wondered how to summarize what God teaches us about Himself, specifically His trinitarian nature, let me give you three truths that help us understand what Philippians 2:6-7 is telling us about Jesus, this baby born in a manger, being in the form of God and being equal with God.
There is one God.
This is the most basic truth in all the Bible, taught from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God…” The Bible makes very clear from the start that there is one God and that He created the heavens and the earth. The first words in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, are, “I am the Lord your God” —one God— “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
One of the most famous passages in the Old Testament is known as the Shema in Hebrew. That’s the Hebrew word for “hear.” Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel…” God is saying, “This is what I want you to hear.” “…[T]he Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Verse five, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” So there is one God. That’s truth number one.
God is three persons.
In the Bible, this one God reveals Himself to us using plural pronouns. Genesis 1:26 says, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” That’s God speaking. Genesis 11:6-7 tell us about the tower of Babel:
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Or think about Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6:8: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” Throughout the Bible, we see three distinct persons. At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17, we see when Jesus, God the Son, was baptized:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Who’s saying that? There’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—in two verses. At the end of every Sunday service, we say to each other, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Or take a passage like 1 Peter 1:1-2, which we studied a while back: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
Each person is fully God.
The Bible teaches over and over again that the one God over all is three persons. And then truth number three is that each person of the Trinity is fully God. Each person is not one-third God. They’re not a part of God. They’re each fully God. God the Father is fully God. Take a passage like Matthew 6, speaking on worry—a good word for anyone who is tempted to be anxious about anything in your life, health, family, work or the world around us right now. Jesus says:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So, God the Father is fully God.
And the Holy Spirit is fully God. In Acts 5:3-4, when Ananias lied about his offering, Peter said to him:
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
When you lie to the Holy Spirit, you are lying to God, because the Holy Spirit is fully God.
Now what we’re seeing in Philippians 2:6 is that Jesus the Son is fully God. Not part of God, but in the form of God and equal with God. It’s just one other example among many in the Bible. Titus 2:13 describes how we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus is God.
So there is one God, revealed in three persons—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—who are all fully God. This is a mystery, not a contradiction. The Bible is not saying that God is one and not one. In the same way, the Bible is saying that God is three in one.
So now we come back to this shockingly simple verse in Philippians 2. Jesus, this baby, born in a manger, that we celebrate at Christmas, has existed forever in the form of God. That’s very different from you or me or every other person ever born in the world. You did not exist, I did not exist, no one in the world—none of the now eight billion people today—existed in the beginning, in eternity past. But Jesus existed as God.
I want you to think about what this means for your life right now. This means so many things. I’ll just list four of them here.
Jesus is worthy of your worship.
First, the One Who came to the world 2,000 years ago is worthy of all your worship today. So yes, it is right to sing loudly, to lift up your hands and your voice with shouts of praise to Jesus. He is the eternally existent Son of God, by Whom you have been created, in Whom you are being held together right now. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God.
So now the details of the story start to make sense, why wise men from far-away nations would come to the house of a baby, bow down and worship with exceedingly great joy, offering extravagant gifts. Why? Because Jesus is God. Because He is worthy of the worship of every man, woman and child from every nation of the earth. Of course a multitude of angels in the heavenly hosts would sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” because a baby has been born Who is Christ the Lord God.
Oh, man, woman, child in this gathering, in this moment, do not demean Jesus with monotonous religious motion and superficial religious traditions this Christmas. Jesus is not worthy of your passing thoughts or patronizing activities. He is God and He is worthy of your highest adoration and supreme worship. That’s just number one; number two gets even better.
Jesus came because He loves you.
The reason Jesus came to the world is because of His love for you. I want you to feel this, right where you are sitting now. Being in the form of God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature and form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. We’re going to talk about that verse next week and I can’t wait. It’s probably my favorite verse. They’re all favorites, but this is really a favorite.
Suffice it to say for now, Jesus did not have to do this. That’s the whole point of the passage. He was looking not to His own interests, but to the interest of others. And who are the others? The truth that booms from the pages of the Bible is that you are the other. I am the other. You and me, sinners who deserve holy judgment.
Now for those of you who are visiting today or exploring Christianity, this is the core message of the Bible. We have all been fearfully, wonderfully and beautifully created by God for relationship with God. But we have all sinned, rebelled against God. We’ve turned aside from God and His ways to ourselves and our own ways. If we die in this state of rebellion, we will spend eternity separated from God in judgment due our sin. But the good news of the Bible—the greatest news in the world, the news that makes Christmas, Christmas—is that God has not left us alone in this fallen world of sin, suffering and death. God has come to us in the person of Jesus, born in the likeness of men, to serve us, to die on a cross to pay the price for your sin and my sin. Then He rose from the grave, so that anyone anywhere—no matter who you are or what you have done—who will turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God for all of eternity.
Jesus—this baby, born in a manger—why did He come? He came to die for you. Just feel that, right where you’re sitting. For you. This is the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will never perish, but have everlasting life.” So if you’ve never put your trust in Jesus, let today be the day when you are restored to relationship with God for all of eternity.
When you do, and for all who have, remember that every moment of this Christmas season is because the mysterious trinitarian God of the universe—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—loves you and me and every single person in the world.
Jesus is with you.
Not only does He love you, but for all who believe in Jesus, He is with you. This is the third implication for your life; realize what we’re seeing here. This means that the One Who came to the world 2,000 years ago is with you right now. Remember, His name means Emanuel, God with us. What did Jesus say after He died and rose from the grave and before He ascended into heaven? We say it to each other every week. What were His last words in the book of Matthew? “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That cannot be if Jesus was not God, if He was just a man. He was physically leaving, ascending into heaven. But because Jesus is God, He said, “When I leave here physically, I’m going to send My Holy Spirit to live in you and I will be with you always.” Christian, amidst whatever you are walking through in your life right now, know that you are not alone. In the moments when it feels like you’re alone, you are not alone. Jesus is with you. Think about what that means.
Jesus rules the world.
This fourth implication for all who believe in Jesus, the One Who is with you, is that He is the One Who rules the world. Not just anybody is with you—the One Who’s with you is the Author and Sustainer of all creation, the Ruler with all authority in heaven and on earth. That’s Who is with you.
I obviously don’t know all you’re walking through right now, but I do want to remind you of this word coming to you, straight from God, amidst whatever you’re going through. It’s in the dark nights in your soul, in the difficult days with your family, at that doctor appointment that you dread. It’s when hopes are failing, tears are falling, doubts are rising, questions are coming. It’s when you’re battling with chronic pain or cancer, when you’re living with special needs in you or around you, when you’re struggling through anxiety or depression, when you’re fighting with sin and temptation. Whatever you are facing and whatever this fallen world is bringing your way, know this: the One Who calms the wind and the waves, the One Who causes diseases and demons to run, the One Who calls the dead to life, Jesus, the Ruler of the world, is with you. And He is for you. If He is with you and if He is for you, then nothing in this world can stand against you—ever.
Always, to the end of the age, He will never leave you alone. He—with all He is and all He has—will give you everything you need to press on and persevere until the day when He brings you to be with Him. All glory be to 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, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Will you bow your heads with me? I want to ask every single person within the sound of my voice: “Do you believe in this Jesus? Have you put your trust and your life, now and forever, in Him?” If the answer to that question is not a resounding yes, I encourage you to hear God’s Spirit speaking to you right now. Just say in response, in your heart, right now in this moment, “God, I believe. I believe You’ve come to save me from my sin, to restore me to relationship with You. Today I put my trust in Jesus, God in the flesh, and what He did on the cross to forgive me of all my sin. I believe He rose from the dead so I could have new and eternal life with You.”
If you prayed that to God, expressing that in your heart to God, the Bible says He does just that. He forgives your sin and restores your relationship with Him. For all who have done this, can we just pray this together?
Jesus, there is no one like You. We bow our heads and our hearts in wonder and awe at Who You are. We say, especially over the next few weeks, that we want to know You more. We want to see You more clearly, know You more truly and worship You more appropriately. Keep us, we pray. Guard us from missing the point as we enjoy all kinds of activities that come with this season.
God, we pray that at the center of it all would be deepening understanding of Jesus and affection for Him. We want to love You, God, with all our heart, soul and mind. We want to trust You, God, amidst all the things that are going on in our lives. I pray that these truths would bring comfort, strength, peace, joy and hope, especially for those who are walking through difficult days. Only You, Jesus, only You can do this. We praise You for Your Word, God. We love it. We love what one verse can do to our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray all these things. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”