The Humanity of Christ

Philippians 2:6-8

Jesus is not only very God of very God, but also became fully man at his birth. In this sermon we discuss how to rightly understand his humanity, and also why a correct understanding of his humanity is so important.

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A holiday seasons such as the one that we are in will hopefully present to us unique ways to both edify and evangelize those we know. And the only real way to the both build up the Christian and to evangelize the non-Christian is to present Christ to them.

This is why I am taking these 4 weeks in December to give us all lessons in the major facets of the doctrine of Christ. I’m giving to you all Christology for Christmas.

Last time I talked about what is perhaps the most denied truth concerning the person of Jesus Christ -- his deity -- the fact that he is God.

As the Nicene Creed of 325 AD puts it, we believe that Jesus is “very God of very God.”  It is an ancient truth that goes back to the very beginning. And it’s one that we cannot deny and still call ourselves Christians.

And perhaps there is no more important reason to know that Jesus is God than for the certainty to know that our sins are truly forgiven and paid…

What mere mortal man could take upon himself the fullness of God’s wrath for sin?

If it takes individuals sinners and eternity’s worth of time in order to please the righteous demands of God’s wrath for their sins against him, then how could we for a moment think that Jesus, a man, could please the righteous demands of God’s wrath for all the sins of myriads and myriads of individuals -- AND to do so in 3 hours while hanging on the cross? AND to have a sense that it was fully done at that time such that he shouted in a loud voice, “It is finished!”

Of all the clear things in Scripture concerning the deity of Christ, even having considered Jesus’ explicit claims to deity, wow others referred to Jesus as God, the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus - To me the most endearing of all these evidences concerning my Lord’s deity is the fact that he has claimed to have paid for the penalty of ALL my sins, and then that he has verified this claim in raising himself up from the dead.

“What wisdom once devised the plan that all our sin and pride, was placed upon the perfect lamb who suffered, bled and died?”

“Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me?”

But. Jesus had to not only be very God of very God -- he also had to be truly man.

This is more so the kind of thing that we tend to reflect upon in this season, and rightly so. We think on the babe in the manger. We think about the glory of the name, “Emmanuel” -- God with us. We think of the birth of a King -- the one who will sit on the throne of David.

And so it might just be that the humanity of Jesus is thought of as the most Christmasy of all the doctrines of Christ. This isn’t to say that it’s the only one that we should think of when we think about his First Advent, but it’s certainly an extremely important facet of his person.

And so this morning I’m going to give you some teaching on the humanity of Jesus as the second part of Christology for Christmas. Last time it was his deity. Today it’s his humanity. Next week it will be his death. And the week after that it will be our union with him and he with us. Moving from far to near. From Christ the eternal creator, all the way to Christ in you, the hope of glory.

And in considering the truth of Scripture concerning the humanity of Christ, there is so much we could look at. Last time we spent considerable time looking at biblical evidences that argue for the deity of Christ. But this week I want to more or less operate upon the presumption that we believe Jesus is a man, and then build some thoughts off of that premise.

And this reflects Scripture well, for in the pages of the Word of Christ we find evidence for his humanity such that we don’t really have to do a lot of mental exercise to see that he is indeed a man:

He was born. He grew. He got hungry. He reasoned as men and women reason. He thought as we think. He built normal human relationships. He had human emotions. He died.

So it’s really just a given in the Bible that Jesus is a man. There are some creative ways that scoffers have come up with to explain it away, and we’ll talk about some of those ideas later...but I want to focus our attention instead on two somewhat different areas concerning the humanity of Jesus.

And the two areas I want to cover address both the HOW and the WHY  of the humanity of Jesus. We’ll somewhat presume the WHAT question -- we’ll take as fact WHAT Scripture plainly indicates is true -- which is that Jesus is a man. But on top of this truth we’ll ask the following two questions:

1. How should we rightly understand the Humanity of Christ?

2. Why should we rightly understand the Humanity of Christ?

So, first, how should we rightly understand the humanity of Jesus Christ?

1. How should we rightly understand the humanity of Christ?

Perhaps this question makes a little more sense if I first ask you this question -- how is Jesus’ humanity different from our humanity?

This shouldn’t be too hard to answer. We are human...only. He is human...AND he is God. At the same time.

And I should pause briefly to mention to you that this reality -- the fact that Jesus is both God and man -- we often read of this reality as the “Hypostatic Union.” Which is a mouthful to say, and a brainful to try to remember, I know. And if you can come up with a better term I’ll all for it. You just have to be sure that it encapsulates the essence of what it means for Jesus to be both God and man:

It means that he is 100% God and 100% man at the same time. It means that Jesus has two distinct natures, yet is one and only one person. It means that Jesus bears all the marks of true humanity except for those which have to do with the inheritance of sinfulness. And it means that Jesus retains all of his divine roles and functions at all times even while existing as a bona fide human being on the earth.

All of that is the essential truth behind what it means for Jesus to be both God and man. These things are the necessary implications of what it means for Jesus to be totally God and totally man.

So how can we even begin to fathom this single person who is both God and man?

And, perhaps more importantly, how can we think of him and speak of him without violating what is actually true about him?

The last thing we want to do is accidentally or unwittingly violate what is true concerning Christ by thinking about his humanity in a way which undermines his deity. Or to think about his deity in a way which undermines his humanity. We want to hold both rightly.

And so that is the question that I want to take a few moments to answer from Scripture for us -- how should we rightly think about the humanity of Jesus?

And to answer this question we’re going to consult the Apostle Paul, in the letter which he wrote to the Philippian church, and in the second chapter of that book. Philippians 2.

And to get the context, let’s begin at verse 1.

Philippians 2:1-5

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”

You might have the word “attitude” there if you have the NASB -- that we are to have that kind of attitude among ourselves -- but I think mind is the better translation since the idea of the word in context is that looking to the interests of others is to be the way in which we think. Thinking of others as more important than self is the mindset of Christians. And it is our mind only because we are in Christ.

It is because Christ thinks of others in this way that we can thusly think of others as more important than self.

And then Paul gives an astronomical Christology lesson in order to support this notion.

If you want to start a nice little fire in your backyard firepit, you use a match. Not a napalm bomb. Not a flamethrower. But in this seemingly little instruction on how brothers and sisters in the church should look out for each other in humility Paul brings out the bazooka. He is going to base his instruction on the deepest of doctrine concerning the person of Christ.

And so in Philippians 2:6-8 we have the depths of what we refer to as the doctrine of the Kenosis.

Now, “Kenosis” is no more than a term formed based upon a really important Greek word that we’ll read in verse 7. So let’s read through these verses and I’ll point out the word for you.

Philippians 2:6-8

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”

The word that we have translated as “emptied himself” in both the ESV and NASB -- and it’s perhaps familiar to some of your in the KJV with this phrase - “and made himself of no reputation” -- it is this phrase which is the Greek word, “ekenosev,” which is a form of the root word, “kenos.” And so, from that word we get the term, “Kenosis.”

And it’s in this text that I believe we find the best answer to the question of how we ought to think rightly about the humanity of Christ. His humanity is like our humanity, but yet he’s not a human in the exact same way that we are human because he’s God at the same time.

So how do we rightly think about his humanity, from what Paul says here in Philippians 2?

First, we must realize that Jesus has always existed, yet not always as a man.

Notice verse 6 - “though he was in the form of God.” This indicates that Jesus existed from eternity past in the “morphe theo” -- in the form of God -- in such a way as to obviously be God.

Second, we must realize that Jesus knew that his deity would never be taken from him, not even by becoming a man.

This is what Paul means when he says that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The word for “grasped” is often translated in the NT as “robbed,” and we actually have it translated that way in the KJV in this verse -- “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”

Perhaps the better way to word things would be this -- that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be robbed from him.” Or, that Jesus “did not count equality with God something that could ever be taken away from him.”

So Jesus knew in his mind all along that, even when he became a man, he would in no way cease to be God. His preincarnate deity would not suffer or diminish one bit once he took on human flesh. He would never EVER cease to be fully God.

And then the third way in which we are to think rightly about the humanity of Jesus is what we read in verse 7 -- that, in taking human-servant form, Jesus deliberately made himself nothing.

Verse 7 - “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Or we could re-order it -- “By taking the form of a servant, and by being born in the likeness of men, Jesus made himself empty.” Or, “made himself nothing.”

Think about what this means.

To go from being everything as preincarnate deity -- to go from being highest of all, in the heavenly realm with angels bowing in adoration -- to go from being revealed to Isaiah in a vision in which the prophet catches a glimpse of a throne and a robe and angels and smoke and glory -- to go from all that into the form of a full-fledged human being was SOOO big a step of degradation that the only way to rightly describe it is by saying that he became nothing.

Humans are the highest of God’s creatures. Yet compared to the creator they are nothing. So when God becomes one of them, he becomes nothing. When God even continues to hold onto his deity while becoming a human, he still becomes nothing in comparison to what he was.

How’s all that for trying to help you with your self-image?

When Jesus added humanity to his deity, the net effect was a subtraction.

And why is that the case? Why is it so emptying to become human?

Not only because humans are creatures. Not only because humans are finite. Not only because humans lack the essential qualities which make God who he is (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience).

But also it is sooo emptying for Jesus to have become a man because of the vastness of the liabilities that he was assuming upon himself when he did.

This incarnate God was prophesied to be the one who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4) On him God would lay our iniquity. (Isaiah 53:6) He would bear the sin of many. (Isaiah 53:12) He would be the one whom Psalm 22:6-7 foreshadowed - “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.” He would be the king who was to be “cut off and have nothing” as Daniel foretold in Daniel 9:26. He would be the stricken shepherd according to Zechariah 13:7.

It is as if eternal God in the form of the Second Person of the Trinity was given an assignment by God the Father. It was an assignment that must be accepted willingly; it was an assignment that must be fulfilled completely.

The terms were as follows:

Be born in a cold cattle stall. Be born into a family encircled with scandal, because very few people will believe the true nature of your virgin mother’s conception. Be born into a poor family. Spend your early childhood traveling to and from Egypt on a perilous road. Be raised in the most obscure Hebrew village. Learn how to scrape a living by fashioning stuff out of wood. In all these years, never sin and yet always obey. In all these years, suffer the pains and enjoy the fleeting joys of human experience. In all these long years, continue to trust in my sovereign will for you. Then, after about 30 years, begin teaching and healing your people. Call disciples to follow you. Invest your life and teaching into them. Oh, and one of them will sell you out to be killed. You’ll need to eat with sinners. You’ll need to be associated with prostitutes. You’ll need to keenly interested in the spiritual well-being of the wicked tax collectors. You’ll need to show the deepest of love to the most unlovely people. You’ll be tempted. You’ll be hungry. You won’t have a pillow. You’ll be cold and hungry and tired and yet have people clamoring around you just to see you do something “cool.” You’ll need to continually trust me and commune with me. And then you’ll be betrayed by your own people -- likely many whom you had healed just days or weeks and months before. You’ll be denied by those who privately express loyalty and affection. You’ll be the recipient of the worst miscarriage of justice in human history. You’ll be mocked and scorned. You’ll be spat upon and slapped. Your beard will be plucked and your back will be torn. You’ll wear a crown of furious thorns. You’ll be fastened to a tree by means of nails through your wrists and your feet. You’ll be hoisted in the air along with criminals. You’ll be made a spectacle of what Rome does to those who are the vilest of sinners. But I’ll be there in sweet fellowship with you through it all. Until this last part. While you are most vulnerable and weak, while you are hanging in shame and agony on a cross, when all others have forsaken you except for me, then I will forsake you. I will forsake you in the sense that I will remove my face of eternal favor towards you and I will instead look you in the eye with fury and indignation. I will set my justice upon you. I will bend my bow and ready my sword. I will assemble the army of my great and eternal justice and I will set it before you. And because you will be a man, I will cause all the iniquities of our people to rightly fall upon you. I will view you as if you have actually sinned every sin of our people. Every evil thought will be to your account. Every wicked word will be to your account. Every vile deed will be to your account. And then I will unleash hell upon you. And you will bear in your body the full weight of my infinite wrath for the transgressions of our people. In three hours you will suffer more than any sinner ever will in hell. And then it will be finished. And you’ll have one last duty of fulfill. You’ll need to choose to die.

Those were the terms of the contract -- The terms for God the Son to become the Son of Man. And by willingly accepting such terms, what other language is there to use except to say that Christ made himself nothing?!

The willing acceptance of such a proposal is the very definition of self-emptying.

And we know that Christ accepted this plan of God because we then read in Philippians 2:8 that “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Paul references the last item which God spelled out for him to accomplish -- death on a cross -- and he says that Jesus became obedient all the way to that point.

Jesus’ acceptance of being found in human form and all the necessary liabilities which came with it -- this is the essence of his emptying. By adding humanity, even though he retained his deity through it all, he became as nothing.

All this to answer the question of how to rightly understand that humanity of Christ -- we have a correct and biblical comprehension of his humanity when we realize these three truths from Philippians 2:

Jesus has always existed, yet not always as a man. Jesus can never be robbed of his deity, even in becoming a man. Jesus willingly rendered himself as nothing when he willingly became a man.

Friends, may we not have our emotions wrongly affected by thinking about the emptying of our Lord.

The point is not that you were so valuable to God that he ordained for his Son to become nothing in order to rescue you, and then that the Son then willingly agreed because he shared the same sentiment for you.

God lacked nothing and needed nothing. God owed us nothing. There is nothing in us that made God think that we were worth it.

The point in all this is to see not our worth but rather our unworthiness -- to see all that Christ had to become liable for because of us in order that he might fulfill the Father’s plan of redemption.

Because we are under a curse as sinful mankind, Christ had to bear the curse for us as a man. Because we are in captivity to sin as sinful mankind, Christ had to conquer its hold on us for us as a man. Because we fail to attain to God’s standard of righteousness as sinful mankind, Christ had to perfectly obey for us as a man.

So may we think rightly about the humanity of Christ. May we realize that his humanity is not a positive for him. May we realize that because of our sin his humanity was very much a negative -- such a negative that it left him as nothing. And in that same moment of sorrow for our sins that held him there, may we at the same time see the glory of his work as our only hope. And may we not only see his human sacrifice as the horrible and awful result of our sinfulness, but also as the glorious means by which God’s holiness and justice are eternally vindicated. And in that we rejoice.

Now. Let’s consider why we need to rightly understand the humanity of Christ.


2. Why should we rightly understand the humanity of Christ?

I have 4 reasons for you. There are more than 4 in Scripture. But these are some of the most important reasons why we need to rightly understand that humanity of Jesus.

1. We must rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Doctrinal Discernment.

Look at 1 John 4:1-3

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

In the time in church history when he is writing this letter, the Apostle John is in a heated battle with a particular group of heretics called the “Gnostics.”

These false teachers believe many errors, and the most egregious of them was the idea that Jesus was not truly human.

They falsely asserted that some Jewish carpenter who was a pretty nice guy and all was one day filled with the Spirit of Jesus (when John baptized him), and so this man could now do marvelous deeds. But he was just a man now overcome with the person of Christ. He was two persons.

And then the Gnostics taught that the spirit of Jesus then left this man while he hung on the cross.

So this is a really bad and clearly unbiblical understanding of the humanity of Christ. But it was prevalently spread within the context of a culture steeped in Platonism -- which is the philosophical system that teaches that everything physical is bad and that only the spiritual can be good.

Therefore, the Gnostics wanted to get everything physical about Christ in the Bible explained away somehow. But you have to create heresy when you try to do that.

So John is writing this letter, partly, to warn Christians about such false ideas and false teachers. And so he point blank tells them of a really important test for determining on the spot if someone’s teaching should be rejected. He says in verses 2 and 3 that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

Simple enough, right? If the “spirit” behind someone’s teaching indicates that Jesus has come in the flesh, then you know you’re likely listening to true doctrine. But if the “spirit” behind someone’s teaching indicates that Jesus has not come in flesh -- that he is not truly human -- then you know that you are certainly listening to false teaching.

So John is writing to tell us that rightly understanding the humanity of Christ provides us with doctrinal discernment. And it would be an understatement for me to tell you all that we live in a day where doctrinal discernment is vitally necessary.

2. We must rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Saving Assurance.

In 1 Timothy 2:5 -- in this verse which seems like a random sort of a thought in the middle of a section of verses about prayer for those in authority, and about how God is a God who has general gracious love for all mankind -- in this verse we have an earth-shattering truth to consider.

1 Timothy 2:5

“There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ -- the man -- is the only way to mediate between God and mankind. No other being is qualified. No angel. No super-apostle. Only Jesus can bring God and the sinner together. Period.

I’d like to quote from a book that was highly impactful to me about 10 years ago. It’s a little book called Christ Our Mediator, by C.J. Mahaney. A really really easy and fruitful read if you would like to pick it up.

And in this book C.J. gives us this simple and helpful exposition of the truth of 2 Timothy 2:5 -- He writes:

“Since sin has been committed by man, therefore sin must be atoned for by a man. Only a human being can be the perfect substitute for other human beings. The debt and obligation and responsibility is mankind’s alone. Neither you nor I, however, can atone for our sin to satisfy God’s righteous requirements; our own disobedience already condemns us before a righteous God...A divine rescue is necessary. We need a savior! And in order to be our savior, in order to pay our debt, this individual must be like us -- not just God in a form that merely appears to be human, but someone fully and truly human.” (C.J. Mahaney, Christ Our Mediator, 44-45)

So, because we have a mediator who is both God and man, we can have a settled assurance in our hearts that we are indeed reconciled to God.

What good would it be for us to have a rescuer who was merely human? God’s not pleased with any mere human being, for none are righteous, much less there is none who can placate his infinite on behalf of others. What hopelessness a mere human mediator would give us.

And what good would it be for us to have rescuer who was only God and not human? We’ll discuss this more next week, but our sin deserved death, and God can’t die. So there would be no way his demands for justice could be satisfied were there no human substitute in our place.

Friends, the only assuring reality in the world is the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became a man in order to be our mediator. He is a human in order to same humans and bring them in fellowship with God.

So it’s important to rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Doctrinal Discernment and in order to have Saving Assurance, but, thirdly, it’s also important to rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Confident Endurance.

3. We must rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Confident Endurance.

To this point let’s read from Hebrews chapter 4 -- one of the most soul-comforting texts for the believer in the whole NT concerning the reality of the humanity of Christ.

Hebrews 4:14–16

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The point is pretty clear. Since Jesus Christ was a man, he sympathizes with our weaknesses.

What weaknesses? Physical weaknesses? Well, likely those, too, yes. But in this context we’re talking about the weakness of our susceptibility to fall to temptation.

Jesus wasn’t weak, he was strong. But that reality all the more underscores the fact that he was then able to be tempted to the highest degree possible. There was no form of solicitation to sin, nor any kind of sin that Jesus was not strongly presented with.

Yet. He never gave in. As a man, he endured every temptation.

And so when we find ourselves tempted, what ought be our response?

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The throne of grace is ours to approach only because Christ makes it accessible through his work on the cross as an atoning human sacrifice.

And the throne of grace is ours to appreciate only because Christ demonstrated its importance by how he lingered there in his time of human struggle in the garden just before his work on the cross as an atoning human sacrifice.

Then lastly in this list of reasons why we must rightly understand the humanity of Christ is this -- We must rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Certain Hope.

4. We must rightly understand the humanity of Christ in order to have Certain Hope.

We’ll end up again in 1 Corinthians 15 this morning. It’s here that we read of how the humanity of Christ guarantees our greatest hope of all.

1 Corinthians 15:20–21

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead”

Let me start with verse 21 -- if by Adam death came, then what is the only way for resurrection to come? If it was man’s fault that mankind is subject to death, then who must return man’s hope of having death reversed in resurrection? It must also be a man who does this -- that’s Paul’s logic in verse 21 - “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

And verse 20 depends upon the truth of verse 21. Because it is true that a man must bring about the resurrection of the dead, then we see in verse 20 that we have our certain hope for such a reality. And Christ is that hope!

Since Christ (the man) has been raised, we know for certain that he will be this champion who will reverse the curse of Adam.

Isn’t it sweet how Paul communicates this truth to us in verse 20? He says that Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits. It’s the first of its kind.

Lazarus was not resurrected. When Peter raised Dorcas, it was not a resurrection. When people came walking out of the graves on the day Jesus was crucified, they were not resurrected. These people were merely resuscitated. They all died again.

But Christ’s coming-to-life-again was completely unlike all of those experiences. For when Christ was raised, he was raised incorruptible. When Christ was raised, he inherited a body that could walk through walls and vanish and rise into the air and probably a whole lot more than that. And that resurrection is the first of its kind, because it’s the kind of resurrection that all of his people will share in.

So we are immensely encouraged in our certain hope when we consider the fact that Christ, as a man, was raised. For we too as men and women will most certainly follow him in glorious resurrection on the last day.

We learn from Philippians 2 how we should rightly think about Christ’s humanity:

1. Jesus has always existed, yet not always as a man.

2. Jesus can never be robbed of his deity, even in becoming a man.

3. Jesus willingly rendered himself as nothing when he willingly became a man.

And then we see that it is vitally important for us to rightly think about the humanity of Christ in order that we might have Doctrinal Discernment. Saving AssuranceConfident Endurance. Certain Hope

In this season may we learn to more and more look with faith and worship to the great mediator between God and men, the MAN Christ Jesus.