Philippians 2:3-11 | What Was Jesus Thinking At Christmas?
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What happened that first Christmas? You know the story. Who came? Jesus, the Son of God. When? About 2,000 years ago. Where? In the little town of Bethlehem. How? Being conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Why? To save his people from their sins.
Those are the facts, every one of them found in the Bible. If you want to understand an event, you need the facts. It helps even more if you have the motive, the why. But if you really want to understand something, you must know what the people involved were thinking as they acted. That’s what the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us in Philippians 2. It tells us not only what happened at Christmas, not only why Christmas matters, but what Jesus was thinking that first Christmas.
If you understand what Jesus was thinking that first Christmas, you understand the true meaning of Christmas. And if you understand the true meaning of Christmas, you understand the true intentions of God. And if you understand the true intentions of God, you understand everything else that matters most, and you’ll never be the same.
So, what was Jesus thinking that first Christmas? Philippians 2:1-11 shows us three things:
1. Jesus was thinking humbly (vv. 3-7)
2. Jesus was thinking obediently (v. 8)
3. Jesus was thinking eternally (vv. 9-11)
Jesus was thinking humbly (vv. 3-7)
Look at verses 3 and 4. “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.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people are selfish and conceited. I mean, you’re not. But, you know, people are. Paul had some of those people in the church in Philippi. There was not peace on earth and good will toward men. There was selfish ambition and vain conceit. There was division—a lot like our world today.
But Paul says that’s not how a church should act. The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of the church. So, it’s Christ’s mind that should rule and control the church, and his mind is thoroughly humble. But this church is acting as if that weren’t true. They’re looking out for themselves, trying to position themselves higher than others because they truly think they’re better.
Flannery O’Connor illustrates this reality in her short story “Revelation.” The main character, Ruby Turpin, sits in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at everyone around her. The story opens with this sentence. “Mrs. Turpin always noticed people’s feet.” This is O’Connor’s way of saying Mrs. Turpin looks down on everyone she meets. Her great sin is pride. But it’s not just that she think she’s better than everyone else—even those just like her—it’s that she actually thinks she’s humble.
Mrs. Turpin is blind to who she really is and to how she really lives. She’s a pig farmer who says at one point that her pigs, “are not dirty and they don’t stink.” Near the end of the story, Mrs. Turpin says to the woman beside her, “When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is…Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!’”
The very next sentence is: “The book struck her directly over her left eye.” Mrs. Turpin got humbled by a little girl reading a book who’d heard enough from her.
We all have a Mrs. Turpin inside of us. In the waiting room of life, we’re sitting there wondering what in the world is wrong with everyone else, and thanking God we’re not like them. Our pride uses others to bolster our own self-esteem, to prove to ourselves that we matter.
Theologian Lewis Smedes summarized it this way. He said every time you meet a new person, you are unconsciously wondering, “How can this person contribute to my need to prove that I count?”
Now, at one level, this is understandable because we were made to matter, and we want to know we matter. But because sin ruined us all, we walk around with what Paul calls “selfish ambition.” Instead of accepting God’s word that we matter, we go around using others to prove it. Why do we do that? Because of that word conceit. Some translations read “vain conceit.” It means that, because of our sin, we’re essentially glory-empty and therefore glory-hungry. We hunger for honor, respect, assurance. We long to matter, and so in nearly everything we do, there is a self-referential aspect. We’re always pointing things back to ourselves.
In other words, we think pridefully. And those prideful thoughts not only separate us from one another, they separate us from God. But God looked down at the pride of man and did something about it. Christmas is God’s response to our pride. In Christ, we see a different way to live.
Look at verse 5. On the heels of exhortation, Paul directs our attention to Jesus—not only to what Jesus did, but to what Jesus thought. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
On that first Christmas, Jesus entered humanity without selfish ambition, without vain conceit. And in doing so, we saw the mind of Christ. We saw what Jesus was thinking, and in return, Paul says, “Think like that.”
So, what was Jesus thinking? Not as Mrs. Turpin or you and I think, that’s for sure. Look at verses 6 and 7. Here’s what Jesus was thinking that first Christmas. “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.”
Jesus emptied himself! Think of that! That’s what Christmas is—the emptying of Jesus on our behalf! The Bible says the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. The incarnation was no backup plan. It wasn’t plan B. The Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—who deserves all praise, who alone is worthy of all our attention, created us with this plan in mind. And after sin broke the world, the Son entered our world to humbly live as our servant to save us.
Pastor H.B. Charles captures some of the wonder:
• He could have declared that his GLORY was too precious to disrobe for sinners.
• He could have declared that his POSITION was too high to condescend to sinners.
• He could have declared that his POWER was too great to lay aside for sinners.
• He could have declared that his HEAVENLY POSSESSIONS were too valuable to part with for sinners.
• He could have declared that his BLOOD was too good to shed for sinners. • He could have declared that his HANDS were too holy to be pierced for sinners.
• He could have declared that his LIFE was too sacred for him to surrender for sinners.
But he didn’t do that! The incarnation is an act of humility far beyond anything this world has seen. Amazing as it sounds, when Jesus came, he wasn’t thinking of the glory he gave up; he was thinking of the glory he could give us.
We walk into a room thinking, “Here I am!” But Jesus came into the world thinking, “There you are!” We’re “Here I am” people. Jesus is a “There you are” person. The mind of Christ is others’-centered, self-emptying, humble. Jesus entered the world thinking, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” We try to get as high as we can in this world. Jesus desired to go as low as he could in this world. That’s who Jesus is. It’s how he thinks. It’s how he thought on the first Christmas, and it’s how he’s thought for eternity.
Now, of course, if anyone had reason to look down on us, certainly Jesus did! And that’s basically what Paul says—he could have, but he didn’t. Look at verse 6 again. “Though he was in the form of God…”What? What did he do? He didn’t look down on us. He didn’t enter the world thinking, “You losers.” No. What did he do? “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” That doesn’t mean Jesus gave up his divinity. That first Christmas morning, Jesus was just as much God as he always was. If Jesus stopped being God, God would cease to exist. God can’t be God without all persons of the Trinity present.
It just means he added humanity and therefore voluntarily gave up some of his divine privileges. When he took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” Jesus didn’t clutch his divine rights like treasure to be retained at all costs. When Jesus came down as man, he came all the way down. He came into our experience of humanity with all the weaknesses and limitations. Why? Because the lower he goes in humility, the more people he can save. Jesus went as low as possible so that even the lowest human on earth is not outside the saving circle of Jesus.
C.S. Lewis puts this humbling act of Jesus bluntly. “The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to became a slug or a crab.”
That first Christmas, Jesus came from heaven to earth. He came from glory to humility. He came from praise to pain. He came from equality to emptiness. He came from lordship to servanthood. He came from eternal life to death on a cross. He did nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. He counted you as more significant than himself. He looked to your interests, not his own!
Jesus was thinking humbly. He was also thinking obediently, our second point.
Jesus was thinking obediently (v. 8)
The humility of Jesus’ thoughts led to obedience because true obedience is humble and true humility is obedient. Look verse 8. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The true test of humility is how far you’re willing to obey. Christmas shows us the extent of Christ’s obedience. He came down to Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and spent nine months in a womb. He was born a baby like any other baby. He grew up slowly, learning to walk, to talk, to think, to reason, to work, to follow, to lead, and to listen and obey. And that path of obedience took him all the way to death, even death on a cross.
Christmas is not only a celebration of life in the incarnation; it’s also a pointer to the death of Christ that was to come. Jesus didn’t enter our world to just see what it was like to be man. It was no magic trick. It was no experiment. It was a mission. Jesus Christ came on a mission to save his people from their sins. And throughout his life, he was thinking about that mission, doing everything necessary to achieve it. Christmas is about more than baby Jesus coming; it’s about the man Jesus dying—the successful mission of the cross of Christ.
Notice that verse 8 mentions death twice. The first time refers to Jesus’ obedience to the Father. The second time refers to his sacrifice for us.
His obedience to the Father was perfect. That first Christmas, and forevermore, the thoughts of Jesus were thoroughly obedient. Think about how difficult that must have been. For example, every one of us knows our birthday, but none of us know our deathday. But Jesus knew both—beforehand! Not only that, he knew the kind of death he would die. He knew the cost. He knew the difficulty, He knew the suffering. He knew the pain. He knew the affliction. He knew the sorrow. And he obeyed anyway.
Since he was God, death had no claim on him. But since he was man, death came for him. He didn’t use his divinity to deny his death. He submitted to his humanity and experienced death. He had enough power to avoid it but in obedient humility he endured it.
Why? To become a sacrifice for you and me. Verse 8 highlights the kind of death Jesus died: death on a cross. The cross was as low a type of death as you could get. It was reserved for criminals and slaves. On the cross, Jesus experienced not only the pain of death but also the shame of death. Theologian Fleming Rutledge captures it well:
Crucifixion . . . was supposed to be seen by as many people as possible. Debasement resulting from public agony was a chief feature of the method, along with the prolonging of agony. It was a form of advertisement, or public announcement—this person is the scum of the earth, not fit to live, more like an insect than a human being. The crucified wretch was pinned up like a specimen. Crosses were not placed out in the open for convenience or sanitation, but for maximum public exposure.
Jesus humbled himself to obey that earthly destiny, to be publicly exposed as worthless, a sham, a person not worth saving.
Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—that’s how deep his obedience went. Even death on a cross—that’s how far his obedience went. The depth and distance of Christ’s obedience is not a minor theme of the Christmas story. It is the Christmas story. You cannot separate the birth of Christ from the death of Christ. Jesus is the only man born on a mission to die! And that mission was on his mind from the cradle to the cross.
But that’s not all that was on his mind. He was thinking beyond the grave. He came to give us more than a cross. He came to give us glory. Jesus was thinking humbly and obediently. He was also thinking eternally, which is our third point.
Jesus was thinking eternally (vv. 9-11)
Look at verses 9-11. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The “therefore” in verse 9 means that Jesus proved a biblical truth that we deeply don’t believe—that he who humbles himself will be exalted. We see this both implicitly and explicitly through the Bible. But we have a really hard time believing it. We think if we go too low, we’ll miss out on what we really deserve. But God’s kingdom is an inside-out kingdom where down is up, low is high, humility leads to exaltation.
We have a hard time trusting God with humility because we struggle to have an eternal view. We don’t see the eternal glory of humility. But Jesus did. He came into the world knowing this world isn’t ultimate. He knew no matter how low he had to go, there was glory on the other side. And he wants us to know that too.
Christmas is proof that this world isn’t all there is. There is another world coming, and we’ve seen the first fruits of it in Christ. He knew that the arrogance of this world is a dead end, and that gospel humility is the path to true exaltation.
But if you’re like me, at the very core of your heart, you deeply think that God has forgotten you, because you know other people have. And therefore you think you need to make yourself visible. But God has not forgotten you! No, no, no! Christmas is proof that God has eternally remembered you! As great as God is, his eye is upon you. His heart beats for you. As Ray Ortlund said, “God is not too great to notice you. God is too great to overlook you.” Christmas is proof.
Christmas says we have not been overlooked. We’ve been noticed for eternity by the One who matters more than any other. In Jesus, we see, as C.S. Lewis said, “the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
We all want to matter. And we go from place to place trying to open that door. But earthly success won’t open it. Self-esteem won’t open it. Only Jesus will.
Christmas is the open door to the life we’ve always wanted: unending life with God. And when we find that life, we find that inside the door there is something far greater than any praise or glory we could ever get. There’s a glory beyond anything we could imagine. There’s a glory we partake in by praising. There’s a glory that makes us truly humble, because humility is found in praising another. And that’s where Christmas takes us: to the eternal praise of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. One day, every knee will bow before him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The glory of God and praise of Christ and fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the motivation and conclusion for absolutely everything in the Christian life. And we get that by thinking eternally of the eternal God, like Jesus.
Jesus thought of his eternal glory, the eternal glory of God the Father. So he came in humble obedience to death, even death on a cross because the greatest glory is found in someone giving up his glory to save another. If we see what Christmas truly is, how can we not praise this glorious God?
The true meaning of Christmas, the true intention of God is to bring his people to their eternal home. Jesus entered our world so that we could enter his. He was thinking eternally on our behalf, to save us from our sins once and for all, and to usher us into the presence of the glorious God.
In closing, what should we think in response?
Well, we must think as Jesus thought. We need the mind of Christ. The only way we will ever make it into his kingdom, the only way we will ever have the salvation he came to give, is if we have the humility he had—total and utter dependence on God.
How do we get that? By seeing the true meaning of Christmas. That Christ’s humble, obedient, eternal heart beats with love for the undeserving. It beat all the way to the cross, and it beats all the way into eternity.
Christmas proves we do not have within ourselves what is needed for salvation. That’s why Jesus came. And Christmas proves that only through humility can we accept the gift of Christmas, the gift of Christ. And the only way we can get that kind of humility—that kind of mind—is if Jesus comes to give it to us. And the only way he can give it to us is by becoming like us and dying for us. The humility we need for salvation was purchased by the humble savior on the cross.
When you really see that—when you really see what Jesus has done for you—you’ll never be the same. You’ll become the kind of humble person God can save. And when God saves you, everything changes. Maybe this Christmas God wants to give you the gift of himself for the very first time. Will you accept?
And if you’ve known him for years, don’t worry, there is still more to behold. Maybe you’re having a hard time seeing him, rejoicing in him, even wanting him. Well, if that’s you, can I humbly suggest that your problem is pride. May I suggest that you repent of it this morning? It’s worth it. He died for it. He won’t hold it against you. He’ll just show you himself and make you happy.
And if you’ve known him for years and rejoice in him now, well, that’s a taste of heaven. That’s why Jesus came at Christmas.
Let’s look to Christ now, wherever we are, and see that he is good news of great joy for all the people.