The Epistle. Philippians 2. 5.
Brethren: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him: and given him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“What makes YOU so special”? Have any of us ever heard this comment, which is usually made by someone who has been offended because someone else has presumed to take upon themselves some sort of special or elevated status? Maybe, we’ve even made this observation ourselves.
We see another person who has “put on airs”, parading around as if they owned the world, or at least thought that they commanded their little part of it. These people can be quite annoying in their seeming arrogance and presumption as they attempt to control the events around them. And many times, our first observation, “What makes YOU so special”, is followed or replaced by a more sarcastic questioning, “who died and made YOU God”?
Now to be sure, I’ve never heard anyone presume to take to themselves the title of “God”, (excepting one particular Episcopal bishop that I knew, but that’s a different story). And while history is rife with the stories of various pagan rulers whose delusions lead them to proclaim their divine status, we know that those people in due time met their fate and perished in the same way as all mortal flesh. Their presumptions ultimately proved to be false. However, as we know, there was one who took upon himself that mantle of “God”; who did so not because of any delusional presumption, but rather because to do otherwise would have been a lie.
These are precisely the questions that Christians must answer on a daily basis if we are to faithfully confess the Gospel. “What makes this Jesus so special”? “Who died and made HIM God”? Really, these are not actually questions, but accusations; and if we are to effectively answer them, we must understand that those who utter these charges are merely mimicking the unbelievers who came before them; they are repeating the charges brought upon Our Lord by the Chief Priests and elders of the Jews, and by Pilate, during his trial. Knowing this, we have at hand today, the perfect response.
I bring your attention back to the Epistle for today; “who, being in the form of God“. Here St. Paul deliberately chooses two words, which the King James translators have rendered as “being”, and “form”. In the original Greek, the word used for “being” refers to the very essence of a man, which cannot be changed under any circumstances. St. Paul is saying that Jesus is at his essence unalterably God.
Likewise the word “form” is meant to convey that essential state which never alters. This may sound redundant, but it also acknowledges Jesus human existence while at the same time proclaiming that in spite of that, Our Lord’s divine essence remained. In just seven words, “who, being in the form of God“, St. Paul declares the unchangeable Godhead of Jesus Christ.
“who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God “. Here again, the Godhead of Christ is emphasized. In the Greek, robbery means to “snatch at”, or “to clutch”. Jesus did not need to “snatch at” his place in the Divine; he already had it in his essence. And he did not “clutch” it or keep it to himself; indeed he willingly offered it on behalf of humanity; Sacrificing himself so that we may experience the Divine.
St. Paul describes this Sacrifice thusly; “but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross“. Here we are meant to understand the totality of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ; that Sacrifice that was recounted for us in terrible detail during the singing of St. Matthew’s Passion this morning; The Son of God, the Lamb of God, willingly sets aside his Divine essence, and wholly takes upon himself his humanity. He is betrayed, arrested and roughly treated. He is accused, and remains silent. He is beaten, spat upon, and mocked, and says not a word. And after all these terrible cruelties, they nail his hands and feet to a piece of wood and hang him there for three hours. And there he dies, as any man would; suffering the same fate as anyone who would presume to declare themselves “God”.
But the essence, the “being” of Jesus Christ is unchangeable. Even as his outward form, his human form, changes, his essential state can never change. Even as his human form suffers such cruel indignities, his Divine form remains above the insult. Even as he is tortured, mocked, and murdered, his Divine essence forgives. Even as his human body dies, God Incarnate forgives.
“What made this Jesus so special”? It is simply this; that he is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity; that part of the Eternal Godhead who came to earth to teach us and to offer himself on our behalf for our sins. “Who died and made him God”? No one made him God; he is already God in his essence, which is everlasting; at one with the Eternal Godhead. And HE is the one who died; not to make us “God”, but to make us one with God. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him: and given him a Name which is above every name”
I leave you with one last thought; All of the four Gospels record that at the end, Our Lord cried out from the Cross one last time “with a loud voice”. But in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declares, “IT IS FINISHED”! In the original translation, this is the cry of one who has completed his task; the shout of a victor. It is the proclamation of someone who has risen from the depths of darkness to the glory of the light. It is the shout of the triumph over sin and death by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God“.