Christmas according to Paul

The thing that makes the Christmas story so remarkable, as Reinhard Bonnke pointed out, is not simply that Jesus was born of a virgin, but that for the first and only time in history, someone made the decision to be born. In the eternal counsel of heaven, Jesus submitted to the request of the Father: “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Heb. 10:7). Jesus agreed to leave his place of rulership and glory in heaven and enter this fallen world as a servant to rescue us from our sin. This is the Christmas story.

Although he does not have Christmas in mind, Paul has some remarkable perspectives on it in his letter to the Philippians. Here in Phil. 2:5-11, he gives us five main points:

Jesus came into this world as God. According to verse 6, Christ came “in the form of God.” In Greek, the word “form” emphasizes that Jesus was of the very same being as God himself. Christ had and has the status of God. Even though the Father and the Son are not identical, nevertheless, whatever the Father is in his nature as God, that the Son is also. To say, as many secular thinkers and even liberal churches do, that Jesus was just a great moral teacher, is never, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, an option. He either was what he said he was or he was some form of lunatic.

He came into this world to give, not to receive. The next statement in verse 6 is this: “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead of imagining that being equal with God was his ticket for getting, Jesus realized it was his opportunity for giving. When Jesus came into the world at Bethlehem, he came to follow God’s way, not his own, and he calls us to do the same. He had a choice. No one in all history ever had the advantage of being equal with God, yet no one ever so completely refused to use it. The amazing fact is that he chose to use it for our benefit, even at his own cost. But Paul goes further in his description: when Christ came into the world, he came to “empty himself.” He did not seek to be filled up, but to be poured out. Or as Paul said elsewhere, “He became poor to make us rich.”

He came for the cross. We cannot see the manger without seeing the cross. Jesus came into this world knowing that for him there was only one possible destination: Calvary. He entered the world at Bethlehem to obey the Father, even unto death on a cross (verse 8). The manger without the cross is religious sentimentality. But the manger with the cross represents the power and the salvation of God.

He came to be exalted. At Bethlehem occurred the first act of the greatest humiliation that ever took place; the last act of that humiliation came at Calvary. But then, in one dramatic intervention – the resurrection – God raised Jesus from the depths to the heights: “Therefore God has highly exalted him” (verse 9). It is not just that Christ is raised higher than anyone else, but that Christ, who made himself so very low, has now been lifted so very high he is in a realm totally different from anyone or anything else. He who came to the manger in utter humiliation and lived out that humiliation to the end, is now revealed by God’s eternal command as sovereign Lord over the entire universe.

He came to be followed. According to verses 10-11, God’s purpose in exalting Christ is that every knee should bow before him and every tongue should confess him as Lord. Are we prepared to take the message of Christmas seriously? If so, we will be ready to follow Jesus in radical discipleship, to serve God and people, to rise above the selfishness of our own interests, to come to the cross, and to be ready to carry it wherever it leads.

That is the message and the meaning of Christmas.