Monday, July 30, 2012

The Exultation of Jesus

One of my favorite passages of scripture is in Paul's letter to the Philippians, which appears to be a quote of an early Christian hymn or creed.  And since Philippians was written by 62 AD, it would have indeed been an early hymn.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
                                                    Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

Jesus Is Fully God

This 'hymn' describes the story of Jesus in 4 verses.  At the beginning of the story, Jesus is God.  He was in very nature God.  This chapter reminds me of two passages.  The first is John 1:1-3 where Jesus is identified as the Word; the Word who in the beginning was with God, who was God, and who created all that we see.  Jesus is fully God.

The second passage that this chapter brings to mind is Isaiah 14:12-15.  This passage, thought by many to refer to Satan, describes one who sought to be equal with God and found himself cast from his place and into the depths.  The expression in the Philippians passage, 'used to his own advantage', is apparently one that is hard to translate.  Other translations, including the NASB and KJV, render it as 'to be grasped'.  Being God was not something that Jesus had to grasp for.  It was his by nature rather than an attainment, unlike the one in the Isaiah passage for whom is was a prize to be obtained.

Jesus Is Fully Human

The second verse of the story of Jesus described in this hymn is challenging.  Jesus emptied himself, or made himself nothing, and took on the nature of man.  The word 'nature' here is the same one used earlier.  As Jesus was in nature God, he now became in nature man.  As he was fully God, now he became fully man.  Jesus humanity was not just a shell around his divinity that allowed  him to interact with mankind.  Hebrews 2:14-18 says that Jesus shared our humanity, becoming human in every way.

There are several ways that people have understood the expression 'made himself nothing', and many of them are so subtly different that I do not grasp the significance (see kenosis in Wikipedia for a look at how some understand this).  But it does tell me that when Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, he did it as a man.  He developed both physically and intellectually, he got tired, he was emotional, he depended on the Father for the message he delivered to us, he was limited in his knowledge, he could be killed.  I do not believe that the Jesus we read about in the Gospels had any advantage by also being God.  Rather he set aside his nature as God to fully take on the nature of man.  I do not believe that he was not God during that time, but that somehow he was able to function simply as a man.

Jesus Gave His Life

In the third verse of the hymn Jesus further humbles himself by experiencing death on the cross.  While this hymn does not express why Jesus went to the cross, other than as an act of obedience, scripture elsewhere affirms that it was a redemptive action.  Jesus went to the cross to make it possible for me to experience life with God.  We celebrate the soldier or policeman who gives his life to save another.  How much more the man Jesus, who gave his life to provide salvation to all who would come to him in faith.

The Exaltation of Jesus

Because Jesus was willing to become a man, and was willing to go the the cross in obedience to the Father, God has exalted him to the highest place, made his name greater than any other, and will cause all to bow before him, acknowledging him as Lord.  But like Jesus emptying of himself, this passage is challenging to understand, at least for me.

It would seem to me that Jesus, as fully God, already had the highest place, honor and name.  The only way this makes sense to me is if it is the man Jesus that is being exalted by the Father.  Jesus twice sacrifices himself, first by becoming human, and secondly by dying for me.  The man Jesus lived a life without sin, always walking in the Father's will, up to and including death on the cross.  Jesus did not do that as God with a shell of humanity wrapped around him.  He did it as fully human in every way.  Could it be that Jesus faced the cross as an act of faith in the Father?  If he was fully human then he could not see the future and his resurrection; he had to trust what the Father told him.

And because of his faithfulness to the Father, the man Jesus is exalted to the highest place.  He is honored above every other, excluding of course the Father himself.  Is Jesus still human, or at least post resurrection human?  I believe so.  Is he also God, fully one with the Father?  I believe that to be true as well; that nature he set aside at his incarnation, I believe he has taken back up.

Join with me in bowing before Jesus, fully God and fully man, and proclaim him as Lord.  You will ultimately do so.  Why not now?

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