Friday, March 26

Today’s devotional is a little “heavier” as we focus on the Incarnation.

Reader: “Though he was God,”   

Response: “he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.”  

Scripture:  Philippians 2:5-11

Though he was God,                                 or     Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God                 he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.                                   as something to cling to

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;          Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave              he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.           Or        

                                                                              And was born as a human being

              when he appeared in human form.

When he appeared in human form,                     

    he humbled himself in obedience to God      He humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.             and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor  Therefore, God elevated him

    and gave him the name above all other names,               to the place of highest honor

    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,        and gave him the name above

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,                     all other names.

    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

                                                                                           That at the name of Jesus                                                                      

to the glory of God the Father.                                              every knee should bow

                                                                                              and every tongue confess

                                                                                              that Jesus is Lord, to the

                                                                                              glory of God the Father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

As we prepare to enter Holy Week beginning tomorrow on “Lazarus Saturday,” I think it most important to reflect on this profound passage on the pre-existent Christ to help us grasp a fuller significance of the events of the next several days. I mentioned the other day that this portion of Philippians was a hymn text from the early church. As you noticed, their hymns sang theology, so much so that some of the hymns showed up in Scripture as God’s word! (Quite a testament to first century writers and challenge to today’s writers of songs for worship.) 

On another note, scholars have noticed two possible ways that this hymnic passage might be broken up. I’ve shown you both ideas. The couplet form on the right side is reminiscent of a psalmodic pattern from the First Testament. With this background, let’s look a little closer at the text itself.

Note in the opening stanza of this hymn, Jesus let go of his equality with God, but he retained his complete divinity. He restricted its manifestation and did not use his divine powers for his own benefit. (Notice the purpose of his miracles.) E.g. Lk.5:12-25 (leprosy, paralyzed);  8:22-25 (storm). He never did a miracle for the miracle effect itself. It always had to do with identifying him as the Messiah, as God’s “anointed one.”

“[Jesus] was born as a human being” or “in the likeness of men” (homoiomati= like other men). As such, Jesus represented the whole human race as the Second Adam. Jesus  had all the qualities of the First Adam as a genuine man― before Adam fell and acquired his sin nature. In essence, Jesus was a Second Adam who never fell; thus he provided a path to redemption for those who have fallen which makes the coming week so significant.

Some translations state this passage this way: “Who being (his eternal existence I AM) in the form (morphe=outward appearance) of God (cf. Col.1:15 ikon “He is the image of the invisible God”), did not consider it robbery (harpagmon Grk.―refers to a stolen object tightly clutched!) to be equal with God.” (“Cling” and “robbery” are two translations of the Greek.)  In other words, Christ’s divine equality to God is not something he stole, but he is divine by his very nature. So humbling himself to take on our human nature is no loss or threat to his divinity as the Son of God in offering us salvation. Jesus wore the clothes and acted like the people of his generation! Physically, he was a “normal” person on earth and divine at the same time. He was born of the seed of the woman, not the seed of a man. Without being too graphic, Mary’s egg was fertilized by the Holy Spirit, bringing forth a Son who was both fully human and fully divine and completely sinless. Jesus had to be fully human for his mission of redemption and reconciliation to be authentic and efficacious.

Jesus assuming the position of a “slave” (doulos) was totally unexpected; hence, Peter’s response when Jesus stooped to wash his feet. A prophet, priest and king doing this? Never! Yet this Slave was a servant to the point of being “Obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  (cf.Ps.22 & Isa.53) The uniqueness of Christ’s servant death transformed the entire created order. Though he had the power to come down from the cross at any moment, our Savior completed his mission with “it is finished!” 

To summarize in the words of John Walvoord, “the three Greek words morphe (form), homoiomati (likeness), and schemati (fashioned) state on one hand that Christ was still all that God is after he became incarnate; but that, he had a genuine humanity, manifested in being in form as a servant (slave), like other men except that he was not a sinner, and in outer appearance or fashion looked like a man and acted like a man. The fact is that while Christ was a man on earth, he still was a man after his resurrection and is still a man in glory. While on earth he was God and looked like a man; in glory, while he will retain his humanity, he will resume the appearance of God and his prerogatives of deity.” ― Philippians Commentary, p.56

In looking at the final stanza of the hymn, why “at the name of Jesus” and not state “at the name of the “Lord” or “Christ?” This thought might be the reason: Lord refers to sovereignty; Christ refers to Messiah as anointed Prophet, Priest, King; Jesus means “Savior,” his human name, his salvific work for all humanity. His death on the cross provides the way for humans’  entrance into Glory. In his Ascension to heaven, Jesus experiences the glory he had before his incarnation (Jn.17:5), but he also experiences greater glory still, having defeated sin, suffering, death and evil bringing reconciliation to the entire created order.

We conclude today’s devotional looking at the final lines of this hymnic passage: every human being ever created will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Some people will bend the knee and confess with great joy and some will kneel reluctantly and confess too late. 

Music: “Christus Factus Est”   Gregorian Chant   Note how the direction of the melody is affected by the text (particularly “exalted”)    The text is easy to follow.

Christus factus  est    pro nobis  obediens  usque   ad mortem, mortem autem   crucis.

Christ     made  was  for     us     obedient    even    to   death ,  death    even   of cross.

Propter   quod    et     Deus   exaltavit        illum,   et    dedit    illi       nomen,    

For         which  also   God    has exalted    him,   and  given   him     name,

quod     est     super    omne      nomen.

Which   is       above    every      name.

Prayer:Almighty God, of Thy fullness grant to us who need so much, who lack so much, who have so little, wisdom and strength. Bring our wills to conform unto Thine. Lift our understandings into Thy heavenly light; that we thereby beholding those things which are right, and being drawn by Thy love, may bring our will and our understanding together to Thy service, until at last, body and soul and spirit may be all Thine and Thou be our Father and our Eternal Friend through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for our sake became poor that we might be rich, became weak that we might be strong, conquered death once that we might live forever, became human that we might become the children of God; in his matchless and exalted name. Amen.   ―Prayers Ancient and Modern, George Dawson, p. 84, adapted Daniel Sharp