Those words, uttered by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5–7, represent his most mysterious and provocative commentary on God becoming a man.
Theologians refer to Philippians 2:5–11 as the kenosis passage. Christ’s kenosis (derived from kenoō, the Greek word used for “emptied Himself”) has been the source of centuries of theological debate. The theories have been many and varied, as great Christian minds have grappled with the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.
So who exactly was the baby in the manger? And of what exactly had Christ emptied Himself in taking on human flesh? Those questions take on a massive weight of importance for all who desire to worship the Lord in truth. And John MacArthur answers them in his sermon “The Theology of Christmas.”
Of what did He empty Himself? Well, some people might think He emptied Himself of His deity but He didn’t because He couldn’t. That is His nature and His being—His essence. Some think He divested Himself of the form of God and became only a man. That’s not possible either because the very essence of God’s nature is manifest inseparably from its characteristics and attributes. So He didn’t give up His nature as God and He didn’t give up His attributes as God.
Well what did He give up? Of what did He empty Himself? The New Testament lays it out for us. In John 17:4 He said, “Father, give Me back the glory I had with You before the world began.” Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory. He veiled His glory when He came into this world. He set His glory aside and gave up His honor.
“The Theology of Christmas” explores the implications of Christ’s emptying His divine glory while remaining the unchanging, eternal God. John’s message takes you to the theological heart of this reality as found in Philippians 2:5–11.
He lays out a five-point progression that walks you through Christ’s humbling incarnation all the way to His glorious ascension. John points out what Christ’s emptying of Himself entailed: abandoning His heavenly position, accepting the place of a slave, associating with sinful people, adopting a selfless posture, and ultimately ascending back to heaven in His supremacy. That sequence lays out the supreme demonstration of humility.
And it’s a pattern that we are called to follow. If Christ was willing to lay aside His eternal glory, how much less is the price we should pay in dying to ourselves in the service of others? That question captures the massive practical significance found in Philippians 2:5–11 as well. In fact, Paul begins the passage with these words: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Paul then proceeds to describe the unsurpassed humility exemplified by Christ in leaving His heavenly throne to condescend as the servant and Savior of sinful men.
This Christmas, we need to remember that Christ’s incarnation represents our template for serving Christ. Much more than that, our Christlike actions should be fueled by the knowledge that God once dwelled with us in our spiritual squalor in order that we might one day dwell with Him in glory.
John’s message brings these truths to light with great clarity. Click here to watch or listen to “The Theology of Christmas.”