SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 20 December 2020
Sermon Text: Philippians 2:1-13
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I. The Creator God
II. Emptied Himself
III. Taking the form of a servant
The countdown has already begun and, in just a few days, not only we of St Columba’s, but all in the world will commemorate the day of Jesus’ birth either intentionally or unintentionally. All Christians will celebrate with the joy of heaven, while the unbelievers will do the same but without knowing the real reason of the day. In the entire human history, no one’s birthday has ever been celebrated like the birthday of Jesus Christ. Generations have remembered this day over centuries after centuries over the past two millennia. And people’s celebration of this day will continue until Jesus finally returns to us and sits on His throne.
Let me ask a question, ‘Why is Jesus’ birth celebrated?’ Why is His birth so outstandingly and incomparably important than the births of other human beings? I believe that we all know why and are able to explain it to anyone who doesn’t. The reason is this; Christmas is the day the Saviour Jesus was born who alone saves sinners and reconciles them to God. His birth is the beginning of a new era – the era of God’s kingdom inaugurated and expanding in our midst. In a word, His birth is the dawn of a bright and blessed day of salvation, breaking through the darkness of sin and eternal damnation.
We celebrate Jesus’ birth based on this fact. We thank God for sending Jesus His Son to us. We’re marvelled at the reason for His coming to us. Moreover, the way He came into the world astonishes us even further – the very God emptied Himself and took the form of a servant! This is an unbelievable truth. Phil. 2 opens up this greatest mystery of the universe to our eyes and ears. This is the key to understanding of the gospel grace – that is, we’re sinners who desperately need a Saviour like Jesus the Son of God, and whoever comes to Him in repentance and faith, God will forgive him and save from sin and give eternal life. This mystery of God’s emptying Himself and taking the form of a servant to serve sinners like us is the very key to our deep and eternal appreciation for the love of God.
Partial understanding of this mystery will, however, leave any Christian to remain partially appreciative of God’s love in sending His Son Jesus to us. To such a person, Christmas is a slightly better day than any Sunday. When a Christmas approaches, his mind gets excited due to mainly its seasonal festivity rather than the mystery of Jesus’ birth. When it is over, his excitement soon disappears and the joy of Christmas fades away alongside his Christmas cake.
But every heart that grasps the mystery of Christmas never forgets the height of the Father’s love and the depth of the Son’s grace. To such a heart, every day is exciting, and every Christmas adds more depth to his/her joy in Jesus.
So, today, I want you to consider with me, as the Holy Spirit leads us, this mystery of the Creator God who emptied Himself and took the form of a servant and came to us and born in a manger in Bethlehem, Judea 2,000 years ago.
I. THE CREATOR GOD
Our understanding of this mystery must begin with the God who created the world and everything in it. Knowing God is the very foundation of understanding this mystery. And I wonder how much you know about Him. I ask this question simply because many of us think we know our acquaintances, but quite often we’re surprised by the fact that we don’t fully understand them. This seems to be true even between husbands and wives. So, I wonder how much we know of God.
I ask this question because God asks the same to His people in Isa. 40. We read earlier today from v. 1 up to v. 11. And in the rest of the chapter, God asks thirteen questions on God’s true nature. This series of questions begins with this: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD or what man shows Him his counsel?”
Hearing these questions, you might wonder why God asks Israel these things. Was not Israel God’s people for their entire history since Abraham and Isaac and Jacob? Wouldn’t they know by the time of the prophet Isaiah who their God was? But God asks that simple question in thirteen different ways: ‘Do you know who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span?’ and so on. Any Israelite could easily answer, and it would not have taken a second to say that Jehovah God did all those.
Then, why would God ask them these questions? Moreover, in v. 26, God asks another simple question as this: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?” He must mean all things that are above in the sky and further on in the vast space of the universe. Why would God ask these to Israel? Simply because His people, Israel, were confident in their minds that they knew God; but, in fact, they did not. They did not know their God and that’s why God asked them questions to remind them who He really is – He is the Creator God.
Just like them, we do not fully understand who our God really is. You might think you know Him, but in reality, that might not be the case. I’m sorry if any of you feel offended, but hear what God means in Isa. 40. God is the Creator; He created the heavens and the earth and all things in them. All things that are visible and invisible are created by God. As all things are created by Him, all things belong to Him; He owns all things, including us. Moreover, He rules and controls and runs all things – both living and lifeless, both visible and invisible.
Now, try to contemplate the nature of God’s act of creation of all things. Have you ever created anything in your life? Anything that didn’t exist, but your own hands have put things together to exist with a meaning? For example, a vege garden or a garden shed or even a Christmas card? Or has any of you assembled even a motorbike or a car? Whatever you’ve made, was it easy? I don’t think anything is easy. You need to plan and prepare; it requires your time, energy, money and sweat. Sometimes, you might have to start it all over again or even give up completely. Creating anything is not an easy job at all.
But, God created all things, visible and invisible, in how many days? In six days. And with what? With His Word. We’re sure that He could’ve created all things in a blink of an eye. But He had a plan, so He spent six days to finish all. Think about this world we live in; think about the oceans and mountains and fields; consider numerous living beings on earth, in the air and under the water. Not only that, but also the skilful craftsmanship in everything He created. None can repeat His work; man alone can mimic Him in the simplest way. The God you and I believe and worship is such an omnipotent – all powerful – Creator, meaning there’s nothing He can’t do. The God you and I believe and worship is such an omniscient – all knowing – Creator, meaning that there’s nothing that’s unknown to His mind. He is also the omnipresent God whose mind and hand reach everywhere in all His creation, and all things are under His control. In a word, He owns all, and He rules over all.
This God is so big and so great in all aspect that the human mind will never be able to comprehend. Because of this, when Isaiah the prophet saw this great and holy God with his bear human eyes, he immediately fell face down on the ground and cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost … for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” He was not the only one who prostrated before God, the whole Israel had done the same at the foot of Mt Sinai when the living God appeared before them with thick clouds, thunder, lightning, fire and earthquake and spoke to them directly. They froze when they saw God and heard His voice. Then, they quickly came to Moses and pled him for asking God to not speak to them directly anymore because if He did, they would surely die! Seeing the greatness of God, being exposed to the Creator God is something we cannot imagine, cannot bear because He is the holy God the Creator.
The only human experience that might give us the wildest guess of this could be the experiences of the survivors of any great natural disaster. For example, a survivor of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami said to a TV reporter that when he saw the raging Tsunami waves from the beach, he could not move at all because his mind turned blank and his body was paralysed. If such a 20-metre-high Tsunami wave that moved at a speed of 500 km/h paralysed that person and many others on the beach, imagine the shock effect of beholding the Creator of the entire universe!
Our God is such a powerful, holy and all-knowing Creator. He is so different from any of us, anything that exists. For this reason, God asks in Isa. 40:25, “To whom … will you compare Me, that I should be like him?” The God of the Bible, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Jesus Christ is the God who created all things.
Embracing this nature of the Creator God freezes our mind and heart, and we find ourselves already prostrated before Him in awe and wonder. He’s not a man, but God the Creator who cannot be even compared to anything or anybody of the world.
II. EMPTIED HIMSELF
I’ve spent much of my limited time for this morning to helping you to understand who God really is. And that’s because if you don’t grasp God’s greatness, if you don’t see His unreachability and inaccessibility due to His holiness (that is, so different from us and all creatures), you would not be able to see how shocking or stunning it is to hear from Phil. 2:7 that He, the Creator God, “emptied Himself.” This ‘emptying Himself’ means, God limited Himself, lowered Himself, abandoned Himself – although we don’t exactly know in what sense He did it. He “emptied Himself,” to do what? To be with us, His creatures.
Talking about ‘emptying oneself’ or ‘making oneself nothing’ (as another English translation puts), we might think of an example with the Queen Elizabeth. Imagine that she attends an official function. As she enters the hall, one of the guests looks at her and asks her to bring a cup of Champaign for him, thinking that she is one of the attendants. If the Queen did bring him what he asked, that would be a case of ‘emptying oneself’ in the simplest form. She made herself someone she was not. The head of the monarch simply puts down her power, privilege, honour and glory, and acts as if she was no one – that’s a kind of ‘emptying oneself.’
But, God is incomparably greater than any queen or king or prime minister; He is the Supreme Being as the Creator of all beings and the origin of all things. He’s not a man. Yet, He emptied Himself, made Himself nothing! To do what? To come to you and to me; to be in and among us; to be one of us! If you don’t see how far and distant He is from us all in terms of essence and being and nature, this phrase, ‘He emptied Himself’ to come to us and be with us as one of us would give you no sense at all. But, if you do see and understand who He really is, if you know His true nature, this phrase will be to you like an explosion of a thousand atomic bombs! This truth freezes you completely and your only response is to fall face down and prostrate before Him your Creator, being amazed with His love and grace toward you!
III. TAKING THE FORM OF A SERVANT
That’s not it. There’s one more fact which makes your mind go blank, frozen and blown away. That is, such a great and amazing God emptied Himself to be with us by ‘taking the form of a servant’! Not a form of a king or boss, not a form of an influential person, but a form of a SERVANT! How could this be! Furthermore, the Greek word, ‘dulos,’ used here and translated in the ESV as ‘servant’ could be rendered as ‘slave.’
No one could ever think of becoming a servant, let alone a slave of someone else. Everyone desires to be in a position above others. I believe you’ve heard this story of a captain of a ship who radioed and said, ‘Turn aside; this is a big ship and you’re on the collision course with my ship!’ Then, the other side radioed back and said, ‘You should turn your heading immediately; this is a lighthouse!’
Another illustration that describes man’s desire to be above others is a maritime accident really happened in 1986, just a few years after the end of the Soviet Union, and this tragedy happened in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Two ships collided and hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. When the investigation ended, it darkened people’s hearts further because it was not a technology problem like radar malfunction, nor a weather problem like thick fog. It was a human error – more specifically, human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could’ve steered clear; but, according to reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late. Unfortunately, this is who we are. Nobody wants to be anybody’s servant, let alone slave.
But, our Creator took the form of a servant, slave! And He voluntarily gave up His glory, honour, power and throne for us – for you and for me, and for anyone who would come to Him in faith. Phil. 2:8 tells us this: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” What is this we’ve just heard from God’s Word? Why did He take the form of a servant and, in human form, die on a cross?
Was He bored in heaven (God, forgive me for saying this!)? No, my dear brothers and sisters! He, the God of the universe, your Creator and mine and of all humanity, emptied Himself; the King and Lord made Himself nothing, and became one of us, not to rule over us, but to be a servant, slave, to you and to me and to all who come and believe in Him!
If this doesn’t blow your heart and mind away, there’s something wrong in your faith, something seriously wrong in your understanding of the God you believe and worship. Our Creator God, more specifically, the Second Person in Godhead, God the Son, emptied Himself and came to us, taking the form of a servant! This is the truth of Christmas; this is the thrill of Christmas; this is the joy and praise of Christmas!
You and I and all true Christians must, therefore, celebrate the day Jesus came as He brought the heaven into our midst, and by bringing heaven to us, brought us to Himself. We rejoice in Jesus because the Creator God who emptied Himself came on the day of Christmas and He came to each of us and filled us with His grace. This Jesus who came to be with us forever is our Immanuel, ‘God with us’! Praise Him, our Creator God, who emptied Himself and, taking the form of a servant, came to us to be our Saviour and Lord! ***