Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
There are two verses in our Epistle reading for this week which can be misinterpreted very easily. I’d like to take a quick look at them. We find of Jesus’ humiliation, “7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV) We owe it to the text, and to Jesus, to interpret these verses rightly.
First off, when verse seven says Jesus is “in the likeness” of man, it doesn’t mean he is sort of like a human, as many heretical sects have claimed over the centuries. Wanting to defend Jesus’ deity, these people say he wasn’t really human. He just seemed kind of human. But the text here says very clearly that Jesus is born as a human. He is just like humans. If I buy two identical shirts and give one to myself and one to you, one is mine, and yours is in the same likeness. They are not the same shirt, but they are really like each other. Jesus is as human as you or I could ever claim to be. That’s what verse seven says. He laid aside his deity and took up humanity. This is of critical importance to Christian theology because human sin requires the death of a perfect human. If Jesus isn’t human like you or like me, his death can never take our place. He is entirely human.
What about the problem with verse eight? This one is kept a little more hidden. But we want to realize that he was obedient to the death. While Paul says “to the point of death” some, again, trying to defend the deity of Christ, have suggested he was obedient to the point of death but then his death was an illusion or there was a substitute who died in his place, because, being God, he couldn’t actually die. This is not what Paul says, though it could come off that way in translation. What Paul is saying is that Jesus was obedient even though it killed him. Yes, verse eight says that God the Son, Jesus, died a real death, a shameful death, a death which inflicted all manner of pain and suffering upon him.
Is there some good news in this passage? Yes, it is very good news. The Jesus who, though he was and is God, became man, was able to take on all our fallen humanity’s sin. Because he remained perfect, his death was able to substitute for ours. Because God really died for us, he is also able to bring us into his exaltation, where we can be raised with Christ. Because Jesus became like us, he is able to take care of us and make us like himself. Jesus, the Christ, is the one who can walk through death on our behalf and raise us to new life. That was his intent, and that is exactly what he proceeded to do.
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