What follows is a manuscript of my message at this morning’s Christmas worship service.
What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
When I was a child, it was a table game called, “Pro Draft.” It was a 1974 game that simulated being a general manager of a pro football team and it came with 50 Topps football cards. When I picked up the package, I knew instantly what it was and I pretty much shredded the paper in an attempt to get to the box! I played with that game for years.
In more recent years, my favorite gift has been a pair of cowboy boots that Raye Jeanne gave me four years ago. They are the first pair of boots I ever owned and she picked the perfect pair for me in style and color. I have loved having those boots. What is the best present you’ve ever received? Perhaps it was even something that you received this morning.
As we think about Christmas gifts, we must also think about Jesus Christ — and we might wonder, “what’s the best gift that Jesus Christ received in His advent?” Now after last night’s message from Philippians 2, we might think Christ didn’t receive anything in His advent because He gave up so very much:
- He gave up His godly rights
- He relinquished His heavenly position
- He endured our deadly judgment
Now it is true that Jesus and Mary and Joseph received the gifts from the magi of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But it’s unlikely those gifts survived long into His life — and those gifts were relative trifles compared to what He gave up in His advent. So we might ask, “what was in it for Jesus?” Did He receive anything in His advent? And if so, what?
He did receive much in His advent. And Paul tells us what He received in Philippians 2:9-11:
The humility of Christ’s advent brought greater exaltation of Christ.
In this passage, we find three gifts that Christ received — three gifts that correspond to the three sacrifices He humbly made in verses 5-8.
- He Receives God’s Exaltation (v. 9a)
Notice that Paul transitions from Christ’s humility in verses 5-8 to Christ’s exaltation in verses 9-11 with the phrase, For this reason. It was because of His humbling and particularly His humbling at the cross, that God exalted Him. The Father’s intention was never that Christ would remain perpetually humble; Christ endured the humility of the incarnation to receive a gift of even greater glory from His Father.
Now the question is, what does it mean for God to exalt the Son? It certainly doesn’t mean that Christ increases in deity as if He was something less than God before the incarnation and now after the incarnation He gets more deity and becomes full deity. No, that’s not what Christ’s exaltation means.
In part, Christ’s exaltation is God’s response to Jesus’ prayer in Jn. 17:1-5 where He asks for restoration to His pre-incarnate glory; and God answers, “Yes, I will restore everything to you that was yours prior to the incarnation.” He receives back the glory He laid aside at the advent. The Father has restored Him to His rightful position in Heaven.
But Christ’s exaltation is more than that. It means that He receives the honor and majesty that is fitting of His position as the Redeemer of mankind. While He has always been fully God, Christ only completed His saving work of sinners in the incarnation and so only after the cross could He receive the honor that is for the One who accomplished the salvation of God’s people. He is honored by the Father as the God-Man.
So how was Christ exalted? There are at least three manifestations of His exaltation:
He is exalted in His resurrection. So Peter says in his sermon at Pentecost, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). And later he will reiterate to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross” (Acts 5:30). And in his letter to the Ephesians Paul says of God’s work in Christ, “He raised Him from the dead” (Eph. 1:20). The resurrection was the first way in which God lifted up and honored Christ as supreme among all men. It is in the resurrection that He is recognized as being “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18) — of all those who will be resurrected, Christ is first and supreme and greatest.
He is exalted in His ascension. You are familiar with the account of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1. But notice that it says there that “a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:10). And the angels immediately say, “Jesus…has been taken up from you into Heaven…” Both those phrases indicate that God the Father took Christ from earth and into Heaven. And He was taken honorably and received with joy. His reception was fitting of the One who victoriously bore the weight of sin. And later Paul will comment on this event and say that Jesus was “taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). Christ didn’t merely exit this world to go back to Heaven; His exit was a means of exalting and honoring Christ as being supreme above all other men.
He is exalted in His coronation. In His letter to the Ephesians, Paul says not only that God raised Him from the dead, but He also “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is to be named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20-21). He rules with the Father as Sovereign of all things and all people in all ages of History. As one writer says, “He now holds in his hands the reins of the universe, and rules all things in the interest of his church (Eph. 1:22, 23).” [Hendriksen, 114.] And this coronation is only possible because of His incarnation and His crucifixion, as the writer to the Hebrews notes: “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Heb. 1:2–4). After the purification of sins, then Christ can sit on His throne, His work completed. After His incarnation Christ receives greater honor and glory because of that incarnation and work.
Put all these exalting actions together and you can rightly say that Christ’s exaltation is the reversal of Christ’s humiliation. “He who was poor has become rich. He who was rejected has been accepted (Rev. 12:5, 10). He who learned obedience has [begun His rule as the One who is obeyed by all].” [Hendriksen, 114.]
Christ gave up so much in His advent and endured so much in the years of His incarnation on earth. Yet, as Sinclair Ferguson notes, “The Son willingly humbled Himself and experienced the humiliation of the cross. Therefore the Father ended the humiliation and exalted His Son.” [Child in the Manger, 55.] For everything that Christ gave up, the Father met Christ’s humiliation with an even greater gift of exaltation and glory.
- He Receives Man’s Worship (v. 10)
The reason God planned for Christ’s humble incarnation was so that He would be exalted as the Redeemer and King and that as King every knee will bow. The reason that the Father sent the Son to the earth was so that the Son would receive an even greater honor than He did prior to the incarnation.
And just who will bow to Christ in honor of His exalted position? Paul says, every knee. In other words, every created being will worship Christ. And in case the readers miss the word “every,” Paul explains who is included in the word “every:”
- Every created being in Heaven. All the saints who are in Heaven and all the angelic realm will worship the exalted Christ. No one in Heaven will fail to give Christ worship.
- And every created being on earth will worship the exalted Christ. Whether believer in Christ or unbeliever in Christ, everyone will acknowledge that Christ is the exalted Lord.
- And every created being under the earth will recognize and admit that Christ is the Lord. Paul is here talking about everyone in Hell and under the judgment of God — whether unredeemed men or rebellious and evil angels or Satan — everyone will admit that Christ is the Lord.
And Paul reiterates that everyone everywhere will acknowledge Christ when he says, every tongue will confess. If any created being has a tongue to speak, it will confess — acknowledge, admit, and recognize — the kingship of Christ. We might read it this way: “Every tongue shall freely proclaim with thanksgiving that Jesus is Lord.” Every created tongue will acknowledge that Christ is Lord and God — that He is very God of very God. Some will bow and confess willingly and others unwillingly, but all will bow and confess.
Some might be tempted to look at the humility of Christ and deem Him unworthy of worship. Actually, what Christ has done in humbling Himself is a demonstration of just how great He is and it is an invitation to our worship. Consider two examples —
- John the Baptist understood the humble circumstances of Christ’s life and yet when his followers came to him to complain that John’s disciples were beginning to follow Christ, he responded with the insightful statement, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptist had a unique position as prophet, but he understood that in comparison to Christ he had could not be prideful and could not seek honor from men.
- Secondly, the apostle John spent three years in ministry with Jesus as the most intimate disciple of Jesus — the beloved disciple. Yet when confronted with the vision of Christ in Revelation 1, notice his response (Rev. 1:12-17). The most intimate disciple to Christ, the one who is the closest earthly friend to Christ, is terrified for his life when he sees the exalted Christ.
I will reiterate what I said last Sunday — even the world loves a cooing baby Jesus. The world loves a helpless infant — even if His name is Jesus. But the world hates a crucified and bloody and risen Christ that demands their allegiance. The world resists bowing to Him and honoring Him. And some may not worship Him now, but they will. In contrast to the derision and rejection Christ faced from the world (even the “religious” world) while on earth, on His exalted throne He will receive universal acclaim.
This week we have been reading in Revelation and one of the stunning features of the book is that despite the wrath of God being poured out on the world, there will still be hardened rejection of and rebellion against Christ:
- Rev. 9:20-21 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
- Rev. 16:9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
- Rev. 16:21 And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.
They may reject Him today, but one day they will all bow to Christ. Here is the lesson: because He has humbled Himself, Jesus demonstrates supremely His greatness and is not only worthy of worship, but every individual everywhere will bow his knee in submission to Him.
- He Receives a Greater Name (v. 9b, 11)
All three verses in this section mention the exalted name of Jesus: the Father bestowed on Him the name which is above every name (v. 9) and the reason He did that was so that at the name of Jesus every name would bow (v. 10) and in verse 11 Paul finally reveals what that name is — Jesus Christ is Lord.
Verse 9 emphasizes that this new name given to Jesus Christ is a name that is supreme; it is the name par excellence. It is the name. It is not merely a title, but it refers to His person and His dignity and honor. It encompasses everything about Him — His nature and position and words and works. The name is not merely a random name given to distinguish one child from another without knowledge of the child’s character (which is how we choose names). But the new name of Christ is a name by which God reveals the essential nature of Christ. And it is unchanging.
The name given to Jesus is “Lord” (v. 11). And that name “Lord” was one more aspect of Christ’s person that was revealed supremely through His incarnation and crucifixion as the New Testament repeatedly testifies:
- Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified.”
- Rom. 10:9-10 …if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
- Rev. 17:14 “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
- Rev. 19:16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
The point of the title Lord is that Jesus Christ is supreme Master over all people. And as the Master He must (and will be) obeyed by all men. No one can escape Him or His authority. And again, the very reason that we know that Jesus is Lord is only through the incarnation. We only know that all men must be humble before Him because He humbled Himself by taking on manhood and dying on the cross and then receiving the exaltation of the Father and this new name.
At the cross, as Christ conquered sin and death and as Christ satisfactorily absorbed the wrath of God, He alone was revealed to be Lord. And that’s why Christmas is not fundamentally about a baby — it’s about the exaltation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
C. S. Lewis recounted in a letter to a friend the folly of how the world thinks about Christmas: “Just a hurried line…to tell a story which puts the contrast between OUR feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly ‘Xmas’ racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a [Nativity scene] outside it, ‘[Good grief!] They bring religion into everything. Look — they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!’” It’s worse than that. We’re bringing the cross to the nativity — the two greatest acts of humility in one Person. And nothing can demonstrate the exalted Christ in greater glory.
And notice one final attribute of these verses: all this worship of Christ is done to the glory of God the Father. Even as all things are for God’s glory and honor, so the incarnation is for God’s glory and honor. Every being will acknowledge this so that God is glorified and revealed as God.
CONCLUSION: When Jesus was born, the most dominant ruler in Israel was Herod (a family dynasty of rulers over Israel). The Herod who was ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth was known as Herod the Great. He was the one who ordered the boys in Bethlehem murdered in Matthew 2. And though he also died shortly after that, his family continued to rule: first through Herod Archelaus and then his brother Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist beheaded (Mt. 14:3ff). He was also the Herod who mocked Christ at His crucifixion (Lk. 23:6ff). And later his grandson, Herod Agrippa II mocked the Apostle Paul at Paul’s trial in Caesarea (Acts 26:28). This whole family of kings had set itself against Christ and everyone and everything that stood for Christ.
Of this Herodian dynasty Sinclair Ferguson has written, “What a dynasty, set against the infant child of Bethlehem! But think about this: How extensive is the kingdom of King Herod now? And on this: How extensive is the kingdom of King Jesus now?” [Child in the Manger, 200.]
Yes, Christ was humiliated in His incarnation. But, oh the exaltation that came through that humiliation. Yes, Christ had a humble birth, but it was the very humility of that birth that enabled Him to demonstrate His greatness as our God and Savior. He humbled Himself. And then He was exalted by the Father and He maintains that exaltation even to this day. Worship Him.
The audio from this message will be posted later this afternoon.