“The Night Before Christmas” Philippians 2:5-11
“The Night Before Christmas” Philippians 2:5-11 Senior Pastor, Robert Dennison, preached this message on December 17, 2023.
One of the things we all enjoy at Christmastime is lots of cookies. What else? Lots of food, right? Well, we’re having the Lord’s Supper today. We’re having food, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to bring my lunch with me, okay? Because I know you’re wondering what’s in the bag. It’s my lunch.
We are in the Philippians chapter 2, verses 5-11. The title of the sermon is “The Night Before Christmas.” Now, if you’re familiar with that poem, that’s not what the sermon is about, alright? So I hope you’re not disappointed. What we want to consider today is what was Jesus experiencing in heaven the night before He was born and how significantly that changed when He came to be a baby. What did He give up? How did He change? What was different between the night before and that first Christmas morning?
I’ll begin reading in Philippians 2, verse 5: “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” We’re not going to spend time on that today. That would be a whole other sermon, how we’re supposed to be like Him. But what we are looking at is who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when He had come as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross.
And for this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
May we pray. Heavenly Father, we thank You for this time of year that our world continues to celebrate, that we’re always reminded, Father, in every store and on every radio station, Christmas, because it is about Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we celebrate today. Let us appreciate more from Your Word what He gave up, that we might have redemption and forgiveness of sin and the right to have, once again, an intimate relationship with You that You desired for all of us from the beginning. In His name we pray, amen.
We’re going to be looking today at existing, equality, emptied, exalted. I didn’t even have to go to a thesaurus to look up synonyms today. All these E’s were right there in the text, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today. Existing, equality, emptied, exalted. What we’re going to be talking about is Jesus coming into this world, and the theological term is the hypostatic union. I have a hard time remembering the term, much less explaining it. So if you don’t understand how Jesus, God, became also man at Christmas time by the end of the sermon, you’re right there with me, because I don’t completely understand it.
The best I can do today is tell you what I know that it doesn’t mean, so that we hopefully understand a little better what it does mean, because the whole concept is like the Trinity. We know it’s true, but it’s above our thinking, and it’s above our understanding.
Let’s look back at verse 5. We read, “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who existing in the form of God.” God was very particular in the words that He chose here in the text today. This word “existing,” I have the Greek word there is, I think it’s hyparcho. It’s talking about the essence of a being that cannot be changed. The essence of God, what He is, who He is, all of His character and attributes existed in Jesus Christ, and that word there means that it could not be changed.
If I talk about my hyparcho, my existing, my essence, I would say that I am a human. Can all of y’all identify with that today? Are you all humans? That’s my essence. Now, animals have a different essence. Angels have a different essence, and God has a very different essence. I can’t be an animal. I can’t be an angel, and I can’t be God, because my essence is that I am human. That’s what we’re saying about Jesus Christ here. He was the essence of God, that part that cannot be changed.
And even to make it more specific, God uses the word there, “form.” And you have to know in the Greek, I’ve got two words up there.
One is morphe, and it’s the inward form which can never change. And there’s another Greek word that’s not used, and that’s the schema, and that’s the outward form which can change in something. Now, what’s being emphasized here is that when Jesus came to earth, he was the entire essence of God, and that did not change.
Let me give you some examples. You know what H2O is? Two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Now, we know that as water. The huparco or the essence is H2O. The morphe is H2O, but if we were talking about the schema of H2O, we know that it can be water that we drink. It can be rain. It can be snow. It can be ice. It can be steam. So that schema can change, but the essence of H2O, no matter what form it is, is what? It’s always H2O.
The text is telling us when Jesus came, that part of him that was God did not change in any way. We can look at me as being a human. My huparco or my morphe is that I am a human, but my schema has changed throughout my life. On day one, I was a what? And then I was a child and a teenager and a man, okay? My outward has changed, but I didn’t change in my basic essence.
And so it is, the text is telling us that when Jesus came, he was still God. He had always been God, and that was not changing about him.
Let’s go on then, and we see another E here. It says, “Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited.” I think we all know what the word equality means. That means equal to.
But Jesus and God aren’t equal to. We say that they are equal with one another, because they’re so joined together in the Trinity. But the word there exploited is interesting, because it means to grab something or to grasp something like you’re holding onto it. And what the text is saying, that Jesus was so equal with God that he didn’t have to grab something to be God, because he already had it. There was no need for him to grab that. And he also didn’t have to hold on to his God-likeness. He didn’t have to hold on to his equality with God, because it couldn’t be taken away from him.
As a human, I don’t need to grab anything more to be a human. I am what I am, and I don’t have to continue worrying every day, “Well, how do I hold on to my humanity?” Because that’s what I am. That’s my essence. When Jesus came, he was still completely God.
Now an example of this, how does it look in Scripture, was back when Jacob and Esau were born. They were in the womb, and they were twins. And there was still a firstborn. Esau came out, and Jacob wasn’t completely equal with Esau. So what, you remember what he did? He grabbed his heel as he was going out. He was trying to get ahead of him, or grasp something that did not belong to him. That’s not the case with Jesus Christ. He is, he was, and he will always be completely equal with God. He doesn’t have to worry about losing that, or holding on to it.
He did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Verse 7 says, instead, another E word now, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. Now we have to connect verse 7 with verse 6, because this word “form” is used in both places. And remember I told you there’s a form that doesn’t change, and there’s a form that does change in the Greek language. But what we see here is that the same word is used in both places.
Jesus had the form, or the essence of God, but he also doesn’t just take on looking like a servant. He actually became a servant. He had the same essence, two essences that were put together. Jesus emptied himself partially of what he was, so that he could take on the likeness of humanity.
This is where my lunch comes in today. So, you might be surprised what I eat for lunch. I have a protein drink, and usually a piece of fruit, a banana, or an apple. And this little plastic bag represents the snack that I shouldn’t be eating, but I do. Okay, any of y’all have one of those?
What I want us to think about is this apple and this banana. And we’re going to just pretend that the apple is God. And this banana is a human. Now, thinking about what God did do when he came, he became completely God and completely human at the same time. I can’t explain that. I don’t understand that, but I can tell you what it doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean that when Jesus came, his Godhood was cut in half, and then he came and he cut a man in half, and he put the two things together. Because then he would have been half God, and he would have been half man. And that’s not what the text is telling us. It’s telling us he was, you answer me, completely God and completely man.
Now, another thing I could do here is I could take the banana, and I could squeeze all the insides out, okay? And I could attempt to squeeze all the insides out of the apple, and then take the pulp of the apple and put it in the banana peel, and take the inside of the banana and put it in the apple peel. So it would look like an apple on the outside, but be a banana on the inside. This is not what happened. We don’t have God inside of a human body. We have completely God and completely man. I can’t explain how it is. I’m trying to tell you what it is not.
The third thing is you could do what Mary does with these in the morning. She puts them in a blender and makes a smoothie, all right? Something completely different. That’s not what happened either. Jesus didn’t come and take his Godhood and his humanity and mix them together and become this completely new essence or species. He was still completely God and completely man.
The third thing is Jesus was not a genetic engineering experiment. I mean, they can probably now change the makeup in these, and we might have a ‘b’napple’, okay?
Have you ever eaten a b’napple? If they had a b’napple, it probably wouldn’t look like a banana, and it wouldn’t taste like an apple. It would be something different. That’s not what happened with Jesus. He wasn’t some new being. He was still completely what he always had been, and he was completely man. Jesus Christ became both completely servant and completely God when he was born. We call this the incarnation or the hypostatic union.
And once again, I’ll say if at the end of the sermon today you don’t understand this, you’re right here with me, okay? I’m doing the best to explain, but it’s a miracle. It’s a mystery. It’s like the Trinity. We know it’s true, but because God does things so far and above us, we don’t always understand everything.
Jesus took on the essence of humanity. He did not replace his being God with being human. He took on being human in addition to being God. No one had ever seen God, so it was no surprise when he came in the manger, not everybody recognized him as God. But when he emptied himself, he appeared to us. He talked with us. He behaved like us. He was able to experience life exactly the way that we do.
The word “emptied,” what was he like before he came on Christmas Day when he was born? Well, he was in heaven where he was shining forth with all of his glory. He was in with God the Father.
He was in the presence of angels that were offering him worship and adoration, and he was omnipresent, meaning he was everywhere. He was omnipotent, meaning he had the ability to do anything he wanted by his word, and he was omniscient, knowing every single thing. But when we think about God’s glory, it talks about when Jesus in his glory appeared to Saul on the road, what happened to Saul? He was blinded because the glory of Christ was so great.
In the New Testament, at the very end, in the New Jerusalem, there’s no longer a need for our solar sun because the glory and the light of Jesus is going to be so bright that it provides all the light that’s necessary for everything. So when Jesus came into the body, he would be like me trying to take this baggie and put the sun in here. If I tried to put the solar sun in this baggie, what would happen to it? It would just melt.
So part of what Jesus did, he emptied himself. He was still completely God, but he left things aside intentionally so that he could inhabit a body and live among us. Of course, when he returns one day, that’s not going to be the case. He will return in his full glory. But he gave up his omnipresence to live among us. He never traveled more than 200 miles from where he was born. He gave up his omnipotence. He didn’t always know what to say because he tells us that he only spoke the words that what? That God the Father had given him.
And when he healed people, he healed them by asking God to heal the people. He didn’t have to do it that way, but he was living life the way that we do. In the same way that we’re supposed to ask God, what are we supposed to say? And we can’t just walk up to somebody and heal them ourselves, but we can certainly pray and ask God to do that for them.
So he gave up all of this, and he assumed now the form of a servant, the essence, taking on the likeness of humanity, and he became limited. He became dependent. He became vulnerable. He became weak. In limitations, as I said, he was limited to one place. He was limited in his power that he had to exercise.
The God of the universe, who had never depended on anybody but holds all things together, made himself dependent on his parents. Do you think Jesus changed his own diapers? No. Mary and Joseph had to do that. Hopefully, Joseph did that to help. Did he feed himself? No. Mary and Joseph had to feed him. He was dependent on them.
He was also vulnerable. As a baby, he needed them to protect him. As a child, we would guess that people in the community teased him that he was an illegitimate child because they continued to do that in his adulthood. And as a man, he had friends that denied him and friends that accused him. Jesus let himself be vulnerable so that he could know what we go through in this life.
He experienced weakness. He experienced hunger. He experienced exhaustion. He experienced emotional depletion.
He depended on God day by day to provide for him what he needed. That’s why he said in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray like me. Give us this day our daily bread.” And even when he had been fasting in the wilderness and Satan came to him, he was certainly hungry. And Satan said, “Turn these stones into bread.” As God, Jesus had power to do that. But he had limited himself that he wasn’t going to use his powers to provide his own needs. He asked God the Father to provide them daily.
And when he had come as a man, verse 8 says, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross. And the reason why he emptied himself, the reason why he died on the cross was he wanted to restore intimacy with us. He wanted to restore this awesome relationship that we all desire to have, that many of us are blessed to have close to that with our spouses, friends, and children. But an intimate relationship with God goes far beyond anything we can express and have here on earth.
This is the part of the gospel. We talk about the good creation that God made everything good. We talk about Adam and Eve’s destructive choice that left us with a deadly condition that we’re separated from God. The gospel, this message you’re reading today, is about the gracious cure. How Jesus provided this cure for us. He came as a man to restore intimacy with us. But the questions come to mind, why did it have to be this way? Why did he have to become God and man?
Why did Jesus need to be both fully God and fully human? He’s God. Couldn’t he have just said, “You know, everybody’s sins are forgiven. Let’s just all have a great party. Nobody’s going to suffer any consequences.” Or could he have allowed us to live according to the law in the Old Testament so he didn’t have to come and die?
And we’re going to go over to Hebrews chapter 9 now to see an answer to some of these questions. In Hebrews 9, we find firstly that Jesus is the sacrifice. We read in verse 22, “According to the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” God, in his justice and his goodness and his love, has maintained that sin has to be punished. But he doesn’t stop there. He says that sin can be forgiven if there is blood involved.
God the Father has no blood because he exists as a spirit. The night before Christmas, Jesus did not have any blood. He was a spirit. But when he came into a body, what came with that? It came with blood in his body that he would be allowed to become the sacrifice for our sin.
But not only is he the sacrifice, but we go on in verse up to 26 we find out he’s also the priest. Well, this is kind of odd. Imagine in the Old Testament the priest came up to the altar and then he laid down on the altar and he took a knife and he killed himself. And then the next priest came along and he laid on the altar and he killed himself.
What would happen to all the priests eventually? There wouldn’t have been any. That wasn’t the way it was. But Jesus was unique because he is offering himself as the priest, and he’s also offering himself as the sacrifice. We can even go on to say that he’s the coming king, and he was also the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. Nobody could be all those things. God kept them all separate. But here, Jesus Christ fulfills them all.
And in verse 26, we read, “He has appeared one time at the end of the ages for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.” That one time is so important there because in the Old Testament, they sacrificed over and over and over and over. But Jesus Christ didn’t come to die over and over and over again. The Old Testament priest was an earthly priest, but the text tells us that Jesus is the heavenly priest. The Old Testament priest had to repeat his offerings over and over, but here we find out that Jesus’ sacrifice was completely sufficient. He only had to do it one thing, one time.
And so it was that the priest was a picture of what was going to come, but Jesus Christ is the real thing. And he went to a real heaven where he offered up his body and his blood to the Father that we might have forgiveness of sins. We’re told in verse 4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Therefore, as he was coming into the world, he was coming into the world the night before Christmas.
This is what Jesus was saying to God the Father: “You did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.”
When Jesus was coming into this world, he was proclaiming to the Father, “I know why you are giving me this body. It’s so that I can do what all the sacrifices in the Old Testament were never able to accomplish.”
And thanks be to God, in verse 10 we read, “By this will we have been sanctified.” That means we’re set aside for the service of the Lord through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
In verse 14, “For by one offering he has perfected, not for a while, but forever, for eternity, those who are sanctified.” Jesus Christ was a sacrifice. He was a priest. He did it willingly that we might have perfect forgiveness of sin and once again intimacy with Christ.
Because of this, we go back to Philippians chapter 2, and we find for this reason God highly exalted him. And it’s going to be reiterated in three different ways that he is God, because God the Father highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above every name. Only God can have a name that is above every name.
So that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. Meaning every being, everything created, all of it’s going to bow to Jesus. And that emphasizes the fact that the only one that desires the worship of all things is God.
And every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is God. That he is the Lord, and all of this is to the glory of God the Father. How are we supposed to react to this on Christmas? How are we supposed to respond? Well, Jesus tells us he’s the gift that we are all supposed to receive.
And we go back to John chapter 1, verses 11, we read this: “He came to his own. The Jewish people that he had created, the Jewish nation that he had chosen, the Jewish nation that he had protected, he came to those, but they didn’t receive him. They had the right pedigree. They had the right background. They were following the laws, but they didn’t get that all this knowledge, who I am is not enough. We have to receive Jesus Christ.”
But John says, “But on the other hand, to all who did receive him, whether they were Jews or whether they were not, he gave them the right to be children of God. To those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”
So when we receive Jesus Christ, what he did for us by dying on the cross, being buried, and raised from the dead, shedding his blood, and giving up his body, and we actually believe in his name, meaning that he is the Lord God Almighty, Scripture says that this intimacy is restored to us and that we are born again. Not by natural birth, but we’re born by God. He doesn’t make us slaves in his household.
He makes us his children to have the most intimate relationship with us. Jesus came as a man to restore friendship and intimacy with us. I think intimacy is something that we all desire. It’s part of our nature to want to be close to other people. And this desire is so strong when people can’t find intimate relationships in good, wholesome relationships. They’ll resort to unhealthy, bad, and sinful forms of intimacy.
And they’ll do that with people. They’ll do that with things. They’ll do that with animals. It’s having a relationship with your job, because now your job makes you everything that you are. Or having an intimate relationship with your money, because you supposedly feel like that provides everything. All of these things are just idols that the world offers to us. And really, we should push them aside, because God came in the flesh that we could have that relationship with him that we truly desire.
The gospel is that there was a good creation. There was a destructive choice. It leaves us with a deadly condition. And we’re talking today about the gracious cure. That word gracious means it’s a gift that is offered to us. And we’ve talked about how the night before Christmas what was happening with Jesus. But the night before Christmas, what was happening with us is we were without hope. The night before Christmas we were without joy. And the night before Christmas we were without peace.
Those are the things that we light the advent candles about. We sing about them at Christmas, because when Christ came, all of a sudden, that day the gift was given to us. That we could have hope. That we could have joy. And that we can have peace. But it does require a proper response that we receive the gift.
You can spend all the money you have on a gift. And you can wrap it up beautifully. And you can push it at a person. But it doesn’t become their gift unless they do what? They’re willing to accept it. And that’s how it is. The gift of salvation is something that we receive by believing in our heart that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He was buried. And He was risen from the grave.
We also then confess to everybody He is my Lord. And He is my Master. And in doing that, then we have the gift of Christmas that was meant for us. We’re going to be celebrating His body and His blood today with thankfulness. Because this is what He offered to us on that Christmas day. We didn’t understand until 33 years later what that meant. But that’s what He brought for us.
We’re going to have a song that the worship team is going to lead us in. I’ll just ask that you remain seated. You may want to sing to prepare your hearts. You may want to spend time in prayer. But Scripture says you need to examine yourself to confess any sin before you come to the Lord’s table, that you might do that in a worthy way. Let’s have a word of prayer.
Tell me, Father, as we prepare our hearts for Your Son’s Supper today, let us confess any sin that we have.
Father, reveal anything to us that we need to make right with You.
Let us come today with thankfulness and joy.