The Real Christmas StoryDecember 10, 2018
We have now reached the end of the year and are on the cusp of a new season! But before we get to January 1st — New Year’s Day — we get to celebrate on December 25th, which of course is Christmas Day.
People are thinking of Christmas at this time of year, so I am focusing my communication with partners this month on the subject of Christmas. That is what I want to minister to you about in this teaching letter. Jesus’ birth was one of the greatest miracles that has ever occurred, for it was a moment when God Almighty laid aside His glory and appeared on the earth as a man. It was a miracle of miracles!
It is amazing to me to think that God would shed His divine appearance to take on the flesh of man! Yet this is precisely what happened the day Jesus was born as a baby in Bethlehem. The apostle Paul wrote about it in Philippians 2:6 and 7, where he said, “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.” The treasure of truth contained in these verses is what I want to share with you this month!
JESUS HAS ETERNALLY EXISTED
In the verses I just shared, Paul began by describing the preexistence of Jesus before He came to the earth as a man, saying, “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 the first, original, or ancient. When it becomes the word huparcho, it depicts something that has always existed.
By using this key word that means to eternally exist, Paul declares that Jesus has always existed. 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 physical manifestation to man, which was actually a very brief appearance in the scope of His eternal existence.
Paul tells us that Jesus always existed in the “form” of God. The word “form” is the Greek word morphe, a word that describes an outward form. This 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 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.
THE TRUE STORY OF CHRISTMAS
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 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 Jesus could make this appearance as a man was to 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 His heavenly glory and “…took upon him the form of a servant.…”
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 on the earth as a man. 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 reached out from His eternal existence, reached into the material world He had created, and took human flesh upon Himself in “the form of a servant.”
The word “form” in this phrase is exactly the same word that describes Jesus in the form of God. It is the Greek word morphe. This means that just as Jesus in His preexistent form had all the outward appearance of God, now Jesus existed in the exact form of a man — appearing and living on this earth in exactly the same way as any other man. For a brief time in His eternal existence, Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity and literally became a man.
Then Jesus took upon Himself the form of a “servant.” This is 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 in this context 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.
Paul also declared that God 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.
JESUS COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDS US
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 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; He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and He intercedes for us with great compassion as our High Priest. Because He walked where we walk and lived where we live, He completely understands us.
At this time of the year, we are prone to think of Jesus as a little baby in a manger in a Bethlehem stable. Certainly this was true, but we should never forget that Bethlehem was not Jesus’ beginning. His coming to the earth as a human being was merely a brief appearance in His eternal existence.
Out of His deep love for you and me, Jesus was willing to leave His majestic realms of glory to enter the realm of humanity. Shedding all His visible attributes that were too much for man’s flesh to endure, He dressed Himself in the clothing of a human being and was manifested in the flesh. That little baby in Bethlehem was the eternal, ever-existent God Almighty, who dressed Himself in human flesh so that He could dwell among men and purchase our salvation.
God’s great love for us drove Him to come down to our level to redeem us and later become an effective High Priest on our behalf. Think how wonderful it is that God loves us to such an extent!
This, then, is one of the primary messages of Christmas that I want to leave you with today: We should be willing to divest ourselves of our privileges, such as the convenience and comfort of self-consumed living, and do whatever we can to reach out and help someone else. This is what Jesus did for us, so shouldn’t we do the same for others?
That is worth thinking about and putting into action, especially at the Christmas season!
I know you are busy this month — I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I also want to thank you again for your precious partnership with our ministry. Every year in December, I review what God has done during that year — and this year, I am amazed again by YOUR FAITHFULNESS to support our work. We simply cannot do what we do without you, so from the depths of our hearts, we want to say THANK YOU!
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 WONDERFUL DECEMBER, CHRISTMAS, AND NEW YEAR!
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