Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Making Himself Nothing; In Three Movements

Kenōsis is the Greek word in Philippians 2:7 translated "made nothing" (ESV)

"he made himself nothing, 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. . . ." ~ Philippians 2:7-8

First, he took 'the form of a servant'. Here, the parallel with the 'form of God' is important. He became a servant as surely and as truly as previously he had been God. The term doulos, too, is important. Christ came into an entirely new relationship with the Father. From eternity he was a Son. Now, he becomes a servant, under the law, bound to obey, charged with a work given him to do (Jn. 17:4) and threatened with the direst consequences for himself and all connected with him should his obedience falter. He became a slave, without rights: a non-person, who could not turn to those crucifying him and say, 'Do you not know who I am?'
Second, Christ assumed a public image which was entirely and exclusively human. He took the likeness (homoiōma) and the appearance (schēma) of men. Paul does not choose such language in  order to suggest that the humanness of Jesus was less than real. It can hardly be doubted that he believed him to be in the truest and completest sense a man. His reason for choosing the words 'likeness' and 'appearance' is, rather, that he wishes to highlight the impression made by Jesus. How did people find him (Phil. 2:8)? Those who were causing concern in the church at Philippi were suffering from vainglory. They were concerned about their image, anxious to make a good impression, and keen to be recognized as people of consequence. By contrast, the one who really was Somebody put himself in a position where people completely misunderstood him and underestimated him. They looked, and saw nothing but a man. There was nothing in his appearance to distinguish him from anyone else. There was no halo, no glow, probably not even anything that made him particularly handsome or striking. Not a head would have turned as he walked. He looked utterly ordinary.
Third, Christ took death, 'even death on a cross' (Phil. 2:8). The subject of this dying - the One who dies - is God the Son. He obeys unto death. In his original form he was immune to death, but he deliberately  assumed a form that was mortal. He went towards death, choosing it and tasting it, deciding not be its master but its victim, and accepting a destiny according to which it would be sin for him not to die. The Son of Man must suffer. Death was obedience; not dying would be disobedience. Besides, it is death in its most aggravating form, not merely because the cross involved indescribable physical pain, but because in his case it was the occasion, the instrument and the symbol of the curse due to sin. He experienced death unmitigated and unqualified: death with the sting; a death without light, comfort of encouragement. The long, long journey from Caesarea Philippi to Calvary was a journey into a black hole involving not only physical and emotional pain but a spiritual desertion beyond our imagining. In his agony, he would cry and not be heard. He would lose all sense of his divine sonship. He would lose all sense of his Father's love. Into that tiny space (his body, outside Jerusalem) and into that fraction of time (the ninth hour, on Good Friday) God gathered the sin of the world; and there and then, in the flesh of his own Son, he condemned it (Rom. 8:3). On that cross, at it's darkest point, the Son knew himself only as sin and his Father only as its avenger.  Here was a singularity. The Logos, the ground of all law, became lawlessness (anomia), speechless in a darkness beyond reason. He so renounced his rights that he died; and he so made himself nothing that he died that death. He did not shrink from the connection with flesh. When a second great step was called for, he shuddered, yet resolutely accepted the connection with death. He became flesh, then went deeper, tasting death.

~ Donald MacLeod, The Person of Christ "Contours of Christian Theology," ed. Gerald Bray, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 216.

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