One of the wonderful Christmas passages comes from 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.”
Let us agree on this point. We simply cannot appreciate the story of Jesus’ birth until we are clear about his identity. The stories of Christmas only make sense after we answer the question – who is Jesus? The NIV used the phrase, “the very nature of God”. But the ESV, and other translations, use the word “form”. The Greek word is the word, “morphe”. It refers to the true and necessary nature of something, with an emphasis both on the internal and external nature. Paul is saying that all that can be said of God, that is, of his nature and essence, is true of Jesus. Jesus is very God of very God.
And yet, at Christmas, we celebrate the babe clothed in human flesh. The latter part of verse 6 states that in His incarnation, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. In Greek, this sentence is difficult to translate. The word translated as “grasped”, was only rarely used in the secular Greek world. One possible way of interpreting this passage is that Jesus did not lay a hold of His status as a God-like prize. It is an image. Imagine if you will, a pirate discovering a hidden treasure, buried somewhere on an island. He has got an old map with an X on it. The treasure is in a cave, and this cave is full of gold, pearls and piles of money. He has become rich beyond his wildest dreams. He can now afford whatever he wants. He can not only buy ships and armies, but he can also rule over nations. He can become the most powerful man on earth. This treasure has transformed his status.
That, says Paul, is like what it is with Christ. His nature, or His form, is that He is fully God. That identity was to Christ what a huge hidden treasure is to a pirate. With this treasure, Christ could do and accomplish anything He wanted. But instead of using His identity to His advantage, He refused to grasp it. He refused to lay His hand on it. He refuses to use it to His advantage.
Think about the debates Jesus had with the Pharisees. Think about the plots they devised against Him. Think about how He was slandered and mocked. Indeed, think about what Herod wanted to do to Him, as he killed the little children of Bethlehem. All Jesus had to do was seize His treasure. He was God and all of his enemies could have been laid waste. But He refused. He never uses His deity to His own ends.
Christmas calls Christians to follow Jesus’ example. Indeed, Philippians 2:5 begins this discussion by calling us to have this mind among ourselves, that is, the same mindset of Jesus. Don’t use your position or power to further your agenda. Instead, like your Saviour, refuse to grasp that treasure. Instead, lay down your life for the good of others. AND – have a very merry Christmas.
The Jesus whom we celebrate at Christmas never used His identity to His advantage.