He Made Himself Nothing

Philippians 2:5-8 “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 grasped, 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.”

Without question, the most important thing Christ crucified and Christ glorified means for me is redemption. This is how God made forgiveness and heaven possible. Miss that, and we might as well spend our time on Good Friday or Easter watching a movie or catching up on our sleep.

But here Paul suggests we can learn something else from Jesus’ sacrifice and victory. His understanding of who he was and why he was here suggests something about the way we look at ourselves. It suggests something about the way we approach our own lives.

Almost all of human life revolves around self-interest. I go grocery shopping and prepare meals so that I won’t starve. I exercise so that I stay healthy. I take medicine and visit doctors and dentists for the same reason. I wear clothes so that I stay warm, and people will think I look good, and maybe so that I can even attract a mate. If I seek a mate, it is because that way I don’t have to do all the work myself, and because I have urges to satisfy. If I have a family, it is because I enjoy the affection of children, and there will be someone to look after me when I get old. I travel to satisfy my curiosity, my thirst for adventure, or to escape the stress and pressures of work. I get a job so that I can finance it all.

You might say that I have painted an incomplete, even cynical picture of human motivations. I plead guilty as charged. Our motives are more complex than that. But can you honestly say any of those statements don’t apply at all? If “self” isn’t the whole thing, isn’t it at least involved to a high degree? Take away my food, my medicine, my spouse, my family, my pleasure, my income, and why am I concerned? Be honest. I feel trampled upon. I am a victim. My rights are being denied.

Now consider Jesus. He was not another human trying to carve out a satisfying life. He was God to the core of his nature. He was just as much God as any of us is a human. He was all powerful, all knowing, present everywhere at once; unchanging, undying, unbounded by time; perfect in holiness, perfect in love. Angels beyond count served him and took care of anything he desired. He lived in the unspoiled atmosphere, unchallenged security, the uninterrupted pleasure of heaven.

He let it all go. Equality was not his concern. He didn’t hold onto it like some entitlement. He made himself nothing, literally, “emptied himself.” He didn’t stop being God. But every advantage that went with the position he set aside for a while.

There were no limits to what he would give up to serve. Jesus kept lowering himself. The Creator became one of his own creatures. Well, at least he could have become an immortal creature, like Adam and Eve were before the fall into sin. But no, he goes lower still, and becomes obedient to death. Well, maybe he could have lived to a ripe old age and peacefully died in his sleep. But no, he goes lower still, and lets himself be unjustly arrested, unjustly charged with crimes, unjustly condemned, and unjustly subjected to death by suffocation nailed to a cross.

He didn’t just suffer it. He embraced it. He went willingly all the way. He made himself nothing. He took the nature of a servant. He humbled himself. He went all the way to the cross to serve, and to save.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” What is your “sacred cow”? You know what I mean by that? What is the thing you think you must keep? You will follow Jesus until he tries to take away “that.”  “That” is non-negotiable. You are keeping “that” for yourself, no matter what he says. If he takes it away, you will leave him. Is it some pleasure, whether sinful or wholesome? Is it something about your lifestyle, your standard of living? Maybe it is a person you hold dear. It could be your reputation, your respect, your dignity.

Paul’s words convict me. I don’t want to lose my comforts. I don’t want to let go of the things I love. I’m trying to build my life here, not lose it. But Jesus himself said, “Anyone who wants to find his life will lose it.” It’s not that he has necessarily asked for or taken away the things I love…yet. But my attitude is so far away from his. I hesitate to empty myself of everything, to become nothing, a servant, a corpse. It scares me to think of what I could lose, especially when I see him this week: humiliated, beaten, dead. Jesus presents me, he confronts me, with a different way to think about my life here.

Thank God his humility and death are the forgiveness of my all-too-worldly soul. They release me from the debt I owe for being so attached to the life I want to build for myself here. They open the door to a life like he has in the life to come.

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