Kenosis – Understanding The Miracle of Christmas
Rev. Tony Cooke
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching for Pastor John Larkam of Impact Family Church in Austin, Texas. He asked me to do a session that was part of his series on “The True Spirit of Christmas” and asked me to choose a particular theme for my session. I chose humility.
I worked from what many have called “The Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11, so called because it is believed that Paul was actually conveying the words of an early church hymn. These amazing verses emphasize the humility that was involved in Christ’s incarnation and life on earth.
Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
The idea of Christ surrendering his divine privileges is based on the Greek word, kenosis. Other versions render this:
(NKJV) made Himself of no reputation
(NASB) emptied Himself
(GNT) of his own free will he gave up all he had
(MSG) he set aside the privileges of deity
(WEY) He stripped Himself of His glory
(AMPC) stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity]
I asked my friend, Keith Trump (expert in Greek) about this, and he said he believes a better translation would be “to completely pour something into something else.” Keith related that this passage teaches that “Almighty God poured his entire self into the human body of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus poured his entire self out as an offering via his death. In this context, Jesus certainly ‘laid aside’ certain rights exclusive to His divinity while expressing his humanity.”
Here is how Keith personally translates Philippians 2:6-8.
“Although He has always existed as God, he did not cling to his divine rights, position, and location. Instead, He poured His entire self into the human body prepared for Him. Once manifested in human form, He took on the position of the lowest class of servanthood. Furthermore, He poured His entire life out for others, even the point of humbly accepting death by means of cruel crucifixion”
I love that rendering! How amazing that God himself would be poured into a human vessel. This exactly parallels what John said when he declared that the Word was made flesh (John 1:14).
As I thought about this “pouring” verbiage, I was reminded of what happened when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and how it also parallels this passage in Philippians.
John 13:3-5 (NLT)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.
4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist,
5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
Consider these parallels.
|Philippians 2:6-8||John 13:3-5|
Jesus was God but did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
|Jesus knew that the Father had given him all authority, that he had come from God and would return to God.|
|Jesus gave up his divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being.||Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin.|
|When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.||Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.|
In both cases, believers are called to emulate Jesus’ example of obedience and servanthood.
Philippians 2:5 (NLT)
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
John 13:14-15, 17 (NLT)
14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.
15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
Jesus came into this earth and poured himself out in service to humanity, even to the point of pouring out his soul unto death (see Isaiah 53:12). Not only are we to receive his salvation and all that he provided, but we are to have the same attitude he had and to serve others as he served us.
The Eternal Son of God did not pour himself into humanity so that we could simply admire the baby in Bethlehem’s manger. He is seeking more than admirers; he is pursuing disciples. Disciples are to become like him (Luke 6:40). As Jesus poured himself out in his incarnation, his ministry, and in his death, may his church follow his example and be poured out for the glory of God, for the edification of others, and for the benefit of the world he loves.
Note: Click here to watch the video of this Sunday’s message on YouTube. The message begins at 52:25. Also, there is an object lesson used to illustrate kenosis at 1:16:27.