Here we are in the month of December! Do you feel like the weeks and months on the calendar have flown by this year? I know that in our ministry, it has been the fullest year we’ve ever had in terms of work and fruit. We are speechless at what we’ve seen God do in so many lives during 2019. With all our hearts, Denise and I, our family, and our team want to say thank you for all you’ve done this year to help us fulfill God’s assignment on our lives. You really are partners with us — and we are simply THANKFUL for you!
In this month’s letter, I want to start by giving you a little insight into what it’s like for Denise and me and our family to live in two worlds — that is, in the Western world and the Eastern world. You see, in the United States, it is customary for you to celebrate Christmas on December 25 — but in Russia, where we live, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, a full two weeks after Christmas is finished in America and the Western world. But when January 7 finally arrives, our family and our church do finally celebrate Christmas!
But does it really matter what date we celebrate Christmas on? The point is not which date — the important point is that Jesus was born! Regardless of when it is celebrated, Jesus’ birth is the most important event in the history of the world!
In Philippians 2:6 and 7, Paul wrote, “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.”
Let me talk to you about these miraculous verses. Paul began by describing the preexistence of Jesus before He came to the earth as a man. Paul said, “Who, being in the form of God….” The word “being” is a translation of the Greek word huparcho, a compound of the words hupo and arche. In this case, the word hupo means from, and the word arche means first, original, or ancient. When they become the word huparcho, the new word depicts something that has always existed.
By using this key word that means to eternally exist, Paul was declaring that Jesus had no beginning, but rather had always existed. This also explains Jesus’ statement when He declared, “…Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Thus, Philippians 2:6 could be translated, “Who, eternally existing in the form of God….” In other words, Jesus’ human birth in Bethlehem was not His beginning, but merely His manifestation to mankind, a brief appearance in His eternal existence.
Paul wrote that Jesus always existed in the “form” of God. The word “form” is the Greek word morphe. This word describes an outward form, which means that in Jesus’ preexistence, He looked just like God. He was not just a component of God, nor a symbol of God. In reality, He was God. And as the eternal God Himself, Jesus possessed the very shape and outward appearance of God — a form that includes great splendor, glory, power, and a presence so strong that no flesh can endure it.
God existed in glory more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend and more powerful than human flesh can endure. Yet He desired to come to earth to purchase redemption for man. Therefore, God had no choice but to “re-clothe” Himself in a manner that could be tolerated by man. This is why He “…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”
This is the true story of Christmas!
The phrase “made himself of no reputation” comes from a form of the Greek word kenos, which means to make empty, to evacuate, to vacate, to deprive, to divest, or to relinquish. Because it was impossible for God to appear to man as God, He had to change His outward form. The only way He could make this limited appearance as a man was to willfully, deliberately, and temporarily let go of all the attributes we usually think of when we consider the characteristics of God. For 33 years on this earth, God divested Himself of all His heavenly glory and “…took upon him the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7).
The phrase “took upon him” perfectly describes that marvelous moment when God reached out to lay hold of human flesh and take it upon Himself so that He might appear as a man on the earth. The words “took upon him” are from the Greek word lambano, which means to take, to seize, to catch, to latch on to, to clutch, or to grasp. This word lets us know that God literally reached out from His eternal existence into the material world He had created — and took human flesh upon Himself in “the form of a servant.”
Not only did God become man, but a “servant.” This word “servant” is from the Greek word doulos, which refers to a slave. Paul used this word to picture the vast difference between Jesus’ preexistent state and His earthly life.
Paul went on to say that Jesus “…was made in the likeness of men.” The phrase “was made” is the Greek word ginomai, which means to become, indicating that this was not Jesus’ original form, but it became His new form. This clearly describes the miracle that occurred when God became a man. Jesus had always existed in the form of God, not the form of man. But taking upon Himself human flesh, He was formed in the womb of the virgin Mary and became a man.
God literally took upon Himself the “likeness” of a man. The word “likeness” is the Greek word homoioma, which refers to a form or resemblance. This refers not only to Jesus’ being made in the visible likeness of men, but also in the human likeness of men. In other words, when Jesus appeared on this earth, He came in the actual form of a man and was just like man in every way.
Jesus was so completely made in the “likeness” of men that Hebrews 4:15 declares He was even tempted in every way that men are tempted. It says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
So we see that when God the Father sent His Son into the world, Jesus left His heavenly home and took upon Himself human flesh. And because of this great exchange, He has stood in our place; He has felt what we feel. Even today, He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and He intercedes for us with great compassion as our High Priest (see Hebrews 7:25).
At this time of the year — whether we celebrate on December 25 or January 7 or some other day — we are prone to think of Jesus as a Baby in a manger in a Bethlehem stable. Certainly that was true, but we should never forget that His birth in Bethlehem was not Jesus’ beginning. It was merely the moment of His brief appearance in His eternal existence.
Jesus was willing to shed all His visible attributes and dress Himself in the clothing of a human being, manifested in the flesh as a little Baby in Bethlehem. But that Baby was the eternal, ever-existent God Almighty, who came to us in human flesh so that He could dwell among men and purchase our salvation. That is the true story of Christmas!
I felt the need this month to encourage you to really think of people you know who are not committed to Christ. Why not invite them to church to hear the Gospel during this special season? Take this month as an opportunity to bring up the subject of Christ and His birth to them. This is a golden opportunity to share eternity-shaping news with them! What better gift could you give? Isn’t this the real reason for the season, anyway?
God has been faithful to you during 2019. He has been with you every step of the way. As you prepare for 2020, I want to tell you that He is going to continue directing you and empowering you. Please let us know how we can be praying for you to wrap up the year and get ready for a new one! And let us know how we can pray for people you know who need to come to Christ. It would be an honor for Denise and me and our team to put our faith together with yours!
As we come to the close of this year and press forward into an exciting new year, would you please pray with us about these steps of faith we are taking?
- We have purchased a property adjacent to our existing offices in Moscow and will construct a new building there for space to accommodate our growing response in the territories of the former USSR. We request special prayer as we proceed on this project.
- The Tulsa office is in the middle of renovating our office to accommodate a growing team that is ministering to thousands who contact us in the U.S. each week. We request special prayer as we proceed on this project.
- In the southwestern part of Moscow, we just opened our newest affiliate of the Moscow Good News That makes FOUR Good News churches in this vast city of millions — and we have plans to open more! Thank you for praying for us!
Thank you for partnering with us as we bring God’s Word to people who are so hungry to receive it. It is a huge assignment, but with God’s grace, and with all of us working together as partners, we can do it! I want you to know that we use every dollar that comes into this ministry prayerfully as we put our hands to this work that is bigger than any one of us. But I felt to ask you to pray with us for these items that are urgent. God is mighty, and with His strength, we can do whatever He asks us to do!
If you have any prayer needs, be sure to let us know. We are always waiting to hear from you, and we are ready to start praying as soon as we know what needs you are facing. We know you pray for us, and it is our honor to pray for you too.
Have a great month and a wonderful Christmas! We love you and thank God for you.
We are your brother and sister, friends, and partners in Jesus Christ,
Rick and Denise Renner
along with Paul, Philip, and Joel and their families