The Descent of Christ
March 31st, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
THE DESCENT OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-31-57 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn in our Bible to the Philippian letter and the second chapter, and we read the first eleven verses. Philippians 2:1-11: Philippians, the second chapter, one through eleven. Now, do all of us have the passage? Philippians 2:1-11. Now let’s read it together:
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Fulfill ye my joy that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.
And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We have just read the greatest theological passage in the whole Word of God. Philippians 2:6-11 is the greatest statement of the person, the deity, the humiliation, the resurrection, the glorious supreme sovereign reigning of Christ of any passage to be found in the Bible. All of the great cardinal doctrines that cluster around the person of Christ are in this passage: His deity, His humanity and incarnation, His atoning death on the cross, His resurrection, His kingship, His return, His reign world without end, when "every knee shall bow . . . and tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God our Father" [Philippians 2:10-11].
The sermon tonight is on the condescension of Christ – the humility of Christ – and this passage begins with a description of the deity of our Lord: "Who, being in the form of God" [Philippians 2:6]. I cannot enter into that – mind cannot enter into that. The exaltation of Christ from the beginning is beyond what any mortal mind, finite, could ever understand or measure. Our Lord Christ is God. "In the beginning was the Word," Christ, "and the Word was God" [John 1:1], our Christ. He is the express image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15]. In the brightness of His person, the glory of God is manifest [Hebrews 1:3].
"In the form of God" [Philippians 2:6]. In what form is God? I cannot know. I have never seen. No eye hath ever beheld it. God has a form, and in that form Christ was: "who being in the form of God" [Philippians 2:6]. He who created heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1], He who was from all time the Almighty and the eternal, our Christ in the form of God [John 8:56-58].
Then come seven steps of His condescension as though His descension – His declining, His humiliation – would never end: down and down and down and down. First, "He considered it not a thing to be grasped" – to be held on to – "to be equal with God" [Philippians 2:6]. You have it translated: "not robbery to be equal with God." How come that thing "robbery" – a thing grasped, held on to, snatched away – came to be "a robbery"? So it was used here. But the thing that Paul is saying is, "Christ in the form of God thought it not a thing to be held on to," to be grasped, to be seized, "to be equal with God, but" – now the second step: "made Himself of no reputation" [Philippians 2:7].
The Greek of that is "He poured Himself out. He emptied Himself" [Philippians 2:7]. Whatever the prerogatives of God, of those prerogatives did Christ willingly deny Himself: "He made Himself of no reputation, He emptied Himself" [Philippians 2:7]. And the next step: "And He took on Him the form of a man" [Philippians 2:7] – came down and down and down and became a man. And then the next step: "in the form of a servant" [Philippians 2:7]. Then the next step: "And being found in fashion as a man" [Philippians 2:8], He humbled Himself further. And then down, down "became obedient unto death" [Philippians 2:8]. Then down and down: "even the shameful death of the cross" [Philippians 2:8].
The measure between deity and the felon, the crucified criminal, is beyond what a mortal mind could ever understand. The humiliation of our Savior down and down and down from the highest deity [Philippians 2:6]. God Himself down and down and down and to be a man [Philippians 2:7-8]. Lord, hast thou not stooped enough just to be a man?
There are other natures our Lord could have assumed. He could have been an archangel. He could have been a seraph. He could have been a cherub. No. He became a man, but being a man He could have been a great, famous king. He could have been born a Caesar. He could have been born a Herod. He could have been born a David. He could have been born a Solomon.
No, no. He became a man; and being a man, He became humble like a servant. He could have been born full grown as Athena – Pallas Athena – sprang full grown from the head of Jove. No. He became a man, became obedient to the will of His Father [Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8], and was born in the form of a little child [Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20, 39-40] with all of the tears and sorrows of childhood.
But being born a child, He could have been born in a cradle dainty. He could have been born in a palace with marble walls. He could have been born in the king’s home. But no. He was born in a stable, and He was cradled where the horned oxen feed, in the oxen’s trough [Luke 2:6-7]. "Lo," you listening [shepherds], "this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger" [Luke 2:12]. That was a sign. By that the angels of glory [Luke 2:9-10, 13] meant you can easily find this Child.
He’s very, very, poor: no pretty garments for Him such as we make in these showers for these expectant mothers today. No pretty little garments, no pretty little dresses with embroidery, no pretty little shoes. Wrapped in swaddling clothes – poor, didn’t have anything to wear, just rags to wrap around the body – swaddling clothes and lying in a manger [Luke 2:12]. How many children – – wasn’t that a sign? How many children would you find born in a stable, cradled in a crib where the oxen ate? Our Lord, made in the likeness of men, found Himself in the fashion as a man, born in the form of a peasant child.
I came across a legend in my reading this week – very simple but so pertinent and descriptive. In Bethlehem, at the end of the day, the Roman officer is looking at the book of the census. The pilgrims have come and gone all day long, and the Roman officer has carefully written down their names in the census. And as the evening comes, there is a shadow that falls on the floor. And the Roman officer looking up, there stands in the doorway a man with a little child in his arms. And the man says to the Roman officer, "Sir, I am late, but I could not come earlier; the Child was born just last night."
"Oh?" said the Roman officer, "You’re in the inn?"
"No," said the man. "We came, but there was no room in the inn. The Child was born in a stable and cradled in a manger."
The Roman officer said, "And what is your name?"
"And what tribe?"
"And what is the mother’s name?"
"And the child’s name?"
"Jesus," Joseph replies, "for He shall save His people from their sins" [Matthew 1:21]. The Roman officer nodded and wrote it down: "Jesus, son of Joseph, of the tribe of Judah," and closed his book. It was the last name on the list.
"Then He took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself" [Philippians 2:7-8]. He’s not done yet – not the humiliation of the condescension of our Lord. As a growing child and as a young man, for thirty years He was an apprentice in a carpenter’s shop [Matthew 13:55; Luke 3:23, 6:3].
And those silent days went by: no Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], no raising of a Lazarus from the dead [John 11:1-46], humble and obedient to His parents [Luke 2:51]. You know, I think of that when I see a lot of our obstreperous children. There never was but one Child who knew more than His parents [Luke 2:48-; Hebrews 4:15], and that one Child for thirty years lived in obedience to His mother and His stepfather [Luke 2:51]. Oh, what condescension. And toiled with His hands with a chisel, and with a mallet, and with a hammer, and with a saw, and with a square. For the years of His young manhood, which comprised most of the years of His life [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], He was an apprentice to a carpenter in a shop of manual toil and labor.
Then in the day of His presentation to Israel and the beginning of His public ministry, how He humbled Himself – down to the waters of the Jordan River and asked baptism of the Baptist preacher [Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 3:21-22]. I wonder how many there are in Dallas who, if they were invited to be baptized by a Baptist preacher would hold their heads up in haughty superiority and say, "I? I?"
The Bible says that the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the elders of the people rejected for themselves the baptism of John [Luke 7:30]. "I? I be baptized at the hands of that Baptist preacher? I? Never!" And the Scriptures say and they rejected the baptism of John [Luke 7:30].
Our Lord and Savior walked sixty miles from Nazareth down to the Jordan where John was baptizing in the dirty waters of the muddy river. And when John looked upon Him: "Nay, Lord, nay, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and Thou comest to me?" [Matthew 3:14]. And our Lord in His humility said, "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness, suffer it to be so now" [Matthew 3:15]. And Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan and arose from a watery grave [Matthew 3:16]. Oh the humility of our Lord!
Then when He began His ministry, He didn’t go to Jerusalem and knock at the door of the eminent rabbis, and He didn’t go to visit the chief Sadducees, nor did He talk even with the eminent and learned scribes. But when He began His ministry there followed Him, and He turned to see, there followed Him two fisherman [John 1:35-37]. One of them was named Andrew [John 1:40], and the other was named John.
And they said, "Lord, Lord, that we might visit with You, that we might talk with You" [John 1:38]. And the Lord invited them, and all of that day they stayed with Jesus [John 1:39]. And when the day was done, Andrew found his brother Simon and said, "Simon, Simon, oh, we’ve found the Lord" [John 1:41-42]. And John found James his brother, and the Lord’s ministry began with fishermen [Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20]. Then in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, or in the Greek called agrammatoi eisen idiōtai, "unlearned and private men" [Acts 4:13] – just ordinary fisherman, laborers.
Then when our Lord, humbling Himself, continued His ministry, He didn’t wear any special garb to call attention to His humility or His vows of poverty, nor did He say words or incantations or repeat litanies to demonstrate His humility. No. He was dressed like any other peasant of His day, and He walked around like any other poor man of that hour.
Then not only that, but as He humbled Himself, He became obedient unto death [Philippians 2:8]. He died willingly. Nobody took His life away from Him. He said, "I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up" [John 10:18]. He became obedient unto death.
His death was a willing sacrifice but not a death like most of us will die nor a death like we have seen. I have never seen a man die on the cross. The usual length of time for a death on the cross was three or four days. They were nailed there in the most tender part of the gangly of the hand. They were nailed there, great spikes holding the feet in place. They were nailed there, and they died of gangrene, of burning fever, of thirst, of exposure. I cannot enter into it. I’ve never seen it.
When we execute a criminal today, we do it in a gas chamber, or we do it by a gallows, or we do it by an electric chair, and it is over in a moment and the life is snuffed out. There has never been any death invented that is as excruciatingly, agonizingly, tormentingly painful as the death on the cross. It was the cruel Roman who could think of it, and they did it in order to strike terror in the hearts of runaway slaves. Then it came to be applied to criminals and felons. And our Lord Jesus: "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," [Philippians 2:8] – down and down and down and down did our Lord give Himself to the will of the Father and died with the pierced nails there in His hands.
Why is Paul saying all this? Is He writing a theology? No. Is He refuting an error? No. That passage is a little incidental passage in something that Paul is writing to the Philippian Christians which is this: "Let nothing be done among you in strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each one esteem other better than himself . . . Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God," [Philippians 2:3, 5-6] – down and down, descending in humility. Paul had no thought of writing a theological passage. What He was saying was this: don’t be proud and lifted up; don’t be superior and haughty; don’t be contentious and separate; but be like Jesus who humbled Himself and condescended and lived in the valley of humiliation – you.
May I say just a word of that? And then we’re going to sing an appeal for somebody you. Did you know only in the Christian faith is this thing taught: humility – the stooping, the bowing, the condescension, preferring other than ourselves? Did you know the Greeks had no word for humility? The classical Greek could not even describe it. He didn’t know it. Aristotle has a long passage on the subject, and when Aristotle speaks of it, the word that He uses for "humility" refers to contempt and pitiableness. And what Aristotle teaches is that men ought to rise in their own self- esteem and that man ought to aspire for personal aggrandizement and greatness [Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle, 350 BCE]. There’s no such thing in the Greek language as a word for "humility."
I can’t read this like you can see it. This is a piece of modern poetry. I don’t like modern poetry like I don’t like modern painting; but somebody who is very modern, somehow got satiated with modernity – and why, I don’t know – and wrote this modern poem entitled "Self."
I saw a brazen thing
With carmine cheek
– painted cheek –
And mercerized leg
Draped over the arm
Of her easy chair,
Yapping about self-expression, bah!
Exclamation point. That’s the first stanza. I can see what he’s talking about, especially that "mercerized leg draped over the chair."
The wild asses of the desert,
And the howling hyenas,
In full measure,
And they remain
Asses and hyenas
While man through self-denial
Has attained some semblance
Of the divine.
["Self," by Doane Robison, date unknown]
This modern, modern way taught in the school – "progressive" education: express yourself, exert yourself. You’ll harm your personality if you’re not just altogether just as mean, and as bad, and as loud, and as contradictory, and as insulting as you can be. That’s the way modern children have been reared. Oh, what a difference in the Christian faith!
I sought from Socrates the sage
Whose thoughts will live in every age
A motto to direct my life
A hero make me in the strife
And Socrates said, "Know thyself"
– one of the great phrases of all ancient literature –
But to know myself did not suffice,
To make me useful, good, and wise
I sought Aurelius
– the great Roman emperor, the Stoic –
I sought Aurelius, strong and great
Who wisely ruled the Roman state
Aurelius said, "Control thyself"
– The great Stoic watch word.
O Nazarene, Thou who didst give Thyself, that men might truly live
What message dost thou leave to Me, that I might fully follow Thee?
And Jesus said, "Deny thyself."
[author and date unknown]
Who, in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be seized to stay equal with God,
But poured Himself out, took upon Him the form of a servant, was made in the likeness of men.
And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
How does a man walk into the Kingdom of God? Proud and lifted up? "Preacher, I tell you I’m the best man that ever came down that aisle, I am. When you’ve got me, you’ve caught the biggest fish in this pond of Dallas." When a man walks into the presence of God, does He come with his head held high and personal pride in his soul? Does he? Isn’t the gospel message this? Isn’t it? When a man walks into the presence of God, he bows his head, he kneels: "Lord, a worm of the dust; Lord, the chief of sinners; Lord, the unworthiest of all Thy creatures; Lord, remember me, a humble suppliant." And when a man humbles himself like a little child, the gates of glory swing open wide [Matthew 18:1-4, 19:14]. God stands to receive His humble believer and welcomes him into the Kingdom of heaven.
Oh, somebody you, tonight, tonight, would you come down that aisle and take this pastor’s hand, and say, "Pastor, in the best way I know how, I give my heart to Jesus." Would you? "Pastor, I don’t hide the fact from myself. I’m not sufficient or adequate for the issues that arise in life. I need God. I need Him now. I need Him in life. I need Him in death. I need Him in the world that is to come." Confessing a hope in Jesus, humble, committed, trusting, like a child, "Here I come, Pastor, and here I am." Would you tonight? A family of you into the church, or one somebody you, while we make appeal, would you come stand by me? "Pastor, by God’s grace, Jesus has my soul and my life now and forever, and here I am." Would you come, while we stand and while we sing?
THE DESCENT OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The passage is a summary of all of the great doctrines that cluster around the person of Christ: His deity, incarnation, atonement, exaltation, return
B. The height from which Jesus came – He was "in the form of God"(John 1:1, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15)
C. Seven steps of His condescension
1. "Not robbery to be equal with God"
2. "Made Himself of no reputation" – emptied Himself
3. Took on the likeness of a man
4. Was in the form of a servant
5. Humbled Himself further
6. "Became obedient unto death"
7. "Even the shameful death of the cross"
II. The depths of His descent
A. There are other natures our Lord could have assumed brighter than stars, noble spiritual beings – but He became a man
B. He could have been born a king, but He came as a humble peasant
1. He could have been cradled daintily in a marble palace, but was born in a stable and cradled where the oxen feed(Luke 2:12)
2. Born poor, wrapped in swaddling clothes, not in pretty little garments
a. Legend of the last name
C. For thirty years He was an apprentice in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth
D. When He did show Himself to the world, He humbled Himself
1. The baptism of John was refused and repudiated by the rulers and elders of the people, but Jesus submitted to it(Matthew 3:14-15)
2. When He began His ministry, He did not knock at the door of the eminent rabbis, but humble fisherman followed Him(Acts 4:13)
E. His way of ministry
1. No special dress, garb or words to call attention to His holiness and humility
F. He willingly went into the abyss of death(John 10:18)
G. The kind of death He suffered was violent, painful, shameful and reserved for worst of criminals
III. The marvel of the passage
A. Paul not writing a theology or refuting an error, but an appeal to the Philippian Christians to be lowly in spirit
B. Humility, to die to self, is a distinctly Christian virtue
1. Greeks had no word for humility
2. Modern poem, "Self"
3. Poem, "The Right Motto"