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(012) Philippians VIII: Servant King

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Philippians VIII: Servant King

Philippians 2:5-11

December 23, 2007


Welcome on this Sunday before Christmas. I am really looking forward to our Candlelight service tomorrow night. Invite your friends and family and join us. And have your kids come in PJ’s.

Thank you to Peter for speaking last week. I really enjoyed his message, especially since I wasn’t giving it.

·         I really appreciated him filling in so last minute; calling him last minute like that was pretty cruel.

I was really inspired by his sermon, and I have been considering running a marathon. Just thinking about it has been the most physically grueling thing I’ve done, so I have already given up.

When is Christmas?

This morning, I want to start with a Christmas history lesson. We all know that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.

Q   But what is Jesus birthday?

We don’t really know the answer to that, but we know that it wasn’t December 25th, 1 AD

·         First of all, the year is completely wrong.

As you probably know, BC means “Before Christ” and AD means “Anno Domini,” which means “In the year of our Lord.” This system was created in 525, by a monk named “Dennis the Short.”

·         Oops, wrong picture. Here is a better one.

So this system Dennis created has now become the world’s standard, and it’s based on the year Jesus was born. Problem is, ol’ Dennis didn’t have really good records, and it turns out he was off a couple of years.

·         So Jesus was born around 4 years Before Christ.

Unlikely day

But December 25th is an unlikely day as well.

Luke tells us that the shepherds were out in the fields watching their sheep. Typically, sheep were not kept outside at night in December, because it was too cold.

We always think of Israel as being hot and dry, but the temperature in that region of Israel is only an average of 10 degrees warmer than Mount Vernon.

In December, nights are in the low 40’s. In fact, snow is not that uncommon. Here is a picture of Jerusalem covered in snow, about 6 miles from Bethlehem.

·         That to say, sheep and shepherds typically would not spend the night outdoors.

But not brought into the barn, into the house. They sheep served as the central heating system for the house.

·         You think a wet dog stinks – imagine a house full of sheep.

When was it?

Q   So when was Jesus born?

We simply don’t know. Observing and celebrating birthdays is pagan tradition. Neither the Jews nor the early church celebrated birthdays, so no one bothered to remember.

One early church father, named Origen, even wrote that it would be wrong to celebrate Christ’s birth because that’s what they did for emperors and false gods.

So where hard facts are in short supply, theories abound. And there are a lot of different theories about Christ’s birth.

One guy from olden days said it was March 21st, because that is when God created the world. But how do we know that God created the world on March 21st? Because that is when Jesus was born!

·         The best theory I’ve heard says he was born in late fall:

Ancient culture had to be based around the agricultural year. In the spring it was time to plant, in summer you had to tend the fields, and in early fall you harvested.

Late fall would have been the ideal time to hold the census that Luke talked about. The food was harvested. You had money in your pocket to pay the taxes that probably came with the census.

But you didn’t want to wait too long, because the winter rains, which made travel dangerous. Flash floods were a huge danger.

·         Put that all together and late fall is a very likely time for Jesus’ birth.

·         I am campaigning to make it November 5th, my birthday, especially because I am named after Jesus.  

So chronologically speaking, December 25th is an unlikely choice. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it, especially since we don’t have another option.

Besides that, I believe December 25th is accurate, incredibly so, in another way. Looking at the entire scope of human history, December 25th holds a symbolic and meaningful connection to Christ’s birth.

·         But you will have to come to the Candlelight service to hear about that. Today we are still in Philippians.

A Christmas story

But not just any passage in Philippians. Today’s passage also tells the Christmas story, but from heaven’s perspective.

·         Here I tip my hand: It was largely for selfish reasons I asked Peter to speak.

Christmas sermons are always a challenge to pastors. Most of us have heard the Christmas story a hundred times, so our challenge is to shed new light on a very familiar topic.

So last month I was mapping out the Philippians series, I saw that if I timed it just right, I could save this week’s passage for this Sunday.

It is a celebration of the Christmas story, God becoming a man, but it is seen from heaven’s view. In today’s sermon, we will see the nature of God as a servant, and see the wonder of Christmas when God became one of us.

Hymn to Christ

This passage, Philippians 2:5-11 is considered to be one of the richest passages in the Bible. It’s topic is a theologically profound topic: the incarnation, when God become a man.

But it doesn’t examine or explain it as a thing to be studied and dissected. We believe that it is a literally a hymn, a song in honor of this marvelous event.

It is written in a very poetic way, and has some unique words in it, so scholars are pretty sure it was one of the Christian hymns. Perhaps written by Paul, or perhaps by someone else, but Paul incorporates into Scripture.

Older translations mashed it all together so the poetic element is lost, but NIV brings it out. Let’s read it now. Turn to Philippians 2:5, page 831 in the pew Bibles:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:


Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be


but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

 to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 NIV   

In Greek, the poetic structure is very pronounced, and even in English, you can see the dramatic descent and assent: Jesus is acknowledged as God, yet he humbles himself to death on a cross, then he is exalted above all.

Servant king

In the previous passage, Paul had called the Philippians to unity through humility and serving each other.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. [to vv. 7 displayed]  Philippians 2:3-7 NIV

And as Paul calls us to humility and serving each other, he uses the best example of this kind of life: Christ Jesus.

As it says, Jesus, was and is, in very nature God. But yet he did not grasp or hang onto his divinity, but willingly gave it up for us to become a servant.

Take a moment for that to sink in: Our God, Creator of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, became a humble servant.

·         In doing so, he did not become less God, but showed us what God is like.

·         That is amazing, unbelievable, beyond comprehension.

Throughout history, the gods had to be appeased, bribed, or tricked into helping man. Sacrifices were offered to feed the gods, infants slaughtered to appease them, ceremonies designed to trick them into caring for us.

·         But in Christianity, our God helps and loves because it is in his nature.

As one commentator said: God humbled himself precisely because he is God. Jesus showed us what God is like.

·         When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he wasn’t stooping to our level; he was raising us to his level.

In Christ Jesus, God served us as he humbled himself by becoming man.


As it says, Jesus was made in human likeness. Not solely a man, but God and man in the same body. The theological term for this is “incarnation,” meaning “to become flesh.”

·         We’ve all heard the term “carne,” as in “chili con carne.”

Q   What does carne mean?

A  Meat, flesh.

·         Jesus is God with meat.

A good meaty chili is a reminder of the glory of the incarnation. Vegetarian chili, on the other hand, is a deception from the pit of hell.

The miracle of Christmas

The incarnation is the miracle of Christmas. God, who holds the universe in his hand, squeezed himself into couple of cubic feet of flesh.

Christmas is like fireworks in reverse – fireworks are a little and plain thing that become big and splendorous. In the incarnation, some great and wondrous becomes little and plain.   

·         The creator becomes part of creation.

·         The eternal One enters time.

·         All-knowing God had to learn to read.

·         The one worshiped by angles is mocked by men.

I wonder if he ever found it a little bit funny being looked down on or being patronized. Like Homer Simpson trying to teach a nuclear physicist how to pronounce “nuclear,” and he’s wrong.

·         The omnipresent God becomes a baby.

An 8 lb. 6 oz, baby Jesus. A little infant baby Jesus.

Though we don’t like to think of it this way, God became a human and did all the things humans do, including wiping his nose and using the bathroom.


But it didn’t stop there. The incarnation was a beginning, not an end. It was the means to an end. Paul goes on to say:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Philippians 2:8 NIV

Or as John 3:16 says....

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV

God loved us, so he became one of us and died for us. But not any death, he died on a cross, one of the most horrific methods of execution man has managed to come up with.


But this brings up big question that we like to ignore:

Q   Why?

Why did Jesus have to die? Some atheists ask what kind of God would sacrifice his own son to pay a debt to himself. Is God just another blood thirsty deity demanding a sacrifice?

·         If he is so loving and good, and so powerful, couldn’t he have just “forgive and forget”?

No, he couldn’t. Not and still be good. For God to ignore sin would be an act of injustice, not love.

·         Ignoring sin is injustice, not love.

Think of it this way: If a judge were to let a child molester go free, simply saying “I forgive you,” we would not call that judge loving or good. We would call him crooked, unjust, and many other things.

For God to simply ignore sin with a “that’s okay,” is to say that sin is not such a big deal, that it is not big deal when murder, destroy, and steal.

God’s dilemma

At the Fall, when man first rebelled against his Creator and said, “I will do my own thing,” God was faced with a dilemma:

·         How could he reach out to his children in love without ignoring or condoning their sin?

·         How could God be both loving and just?

Christ’s death is a brilliant solution to an impossible dilemma:

·         God would become a man and pay the penalty himself.

This is why Paul says in Romans:

God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:25-26 NIV 

The meaning of Christmas is the incarnation, but its purpose is Christ’s atoning death. Christmas looks forward to Good Friday and Easter.

·         From the being, Jesus eyes were focused on this death which was to pay the penalty we so richly deserved.

Exalted lord

But the story doesn’t even end at the 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 NIV

God has now exalted Jesus even more than before, giving him the highest place, which is an odd thought.

Q   How can God be more exalted than he was?

It’s not that Jesus is now more God than before, but that we, his creation recognize and exalt him more, both now in response to what he has done and later when we see him in all his glory.

·         Though we have known Jesus as our loving savior, one day we shall see him as our exalted lord.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John has a revelation of the risen and exalted Lord. Keep in mind, that John was one of Jesus’ closest friends, his buddy. But listen to him when he sees Christ in all his glory:

His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  Revelation 1:14-17 NIV 

You get the sense of a man overwhelmed by what he saw. John’s words are bizarre and his imagery confusing. But one day each of us will have this same experience.

Today, we think of Jesus as the teacher and healer, our savior, as the 8 lbs, 6 oz, baby all of which is true.

·         But when we see him face to face in all his glory, we will be without words.

As Paul says, every knee will bow at that time. For those who have called him “Lord” in this life, it will be a moment of both  terror and joy.

·         But for those who, in this life, have called themselveslord,” it will be a moment only of terror.

Two advents

And so, in this season, we celebrate the Incarnation. We call this the advent wreath. Advent means “coming.” We stand amazed at the great love of our God that he would serve us by coming to die for us.

·         But we also look forward to his Second Advent, when he will come, not a lowly child, but the exalted Lord.


Father, in writing this passage, Paul hoped to both motivate us to follow Christ’s example, being a servant, humbly putting other before ourselves. Yet he also wanted us to stand amazed at the wonder of this truth.

·         This Christmas, help us feel the wonder of the incarnation.

Advent Reading: Christina

The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Humility,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 11/4/07


Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

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