The Kenosis

He had it all.

All the glory. All the honor. All the preeminence.

No one was higher. No one was greater. His light shined the brightest.

He was the only Son.

There was no other like him – not even close.

By him were the heavens made; the sun, moon and stars did his bidding; the universe bowed down. Through him was every ruler and kingdom and throne set forth, and they governed under his sovereign authority.

Paul exalted him in his beautiful prologue to the Colossians – a song of infinite and unparalleled praise:

“And he is before all things, and by him all things consist … who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead: that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:17-18, KJV).

“His own almighty arm upheld the spheres,” declared English preacher Charles Spurgeon, “the praises of cherubim and seraphim perpetually surrounded him; the full chorus of the hallelujahs of the universe unceasingly flowed to the foot of his throne”.

We occasionally hear that someone has won “universal acclaim”.

It may be safely said that of Jesus Christ only is this literally true.

In reverential amazement we struggle to see, understand and more fully appreciate what took place in heaven, and then on earth, two thousand years ago.

Jesus Christ was God, Paul tells the Philippians. With all the glory and honor of the deity.

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6, KJV). Jesus did not “grasp” at divine equality (NIV); he accepted it as his right and position. Then Jesus did something extraordinary – at the request and with the approval of God the Father.

The angels marveled. Heaven went silent.

Jesus consented to become human; to be a man.

He “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7, NASB).

Jesus laid aside his power and glory. He “made himself of no reputation” (KJV).

The Greeks had a word for this self-emptying: kenosis.

In this act of self-denial, the Son of God “made himself nothing” (NIV).

In kenosis, Jesus emptied himself of all self-will and became entirely submissive to his Father’s will and purpose. Jesus depleted himself.

Paul the apostle shows us Jesus as the premier example of humble sacrifice and tells us in his letter to the Philippians to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, KJV).

Jesus left his throne and glory in heaven and came to earth.

In being “made in the likeness of men” (verse 7, KJV), Jesus never surrendered his divine attributes; instead he voluntarily relinquished the independent exercise of those powers.

In the flesh, he remained God.

He told his disciples he would lay down his life and take it up again; this would be by his power and his choice; it would be his prerogative.

“The Father loves me,” Jesus said, “because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again” (John 10: 17-18, NLT).

When the Roman soldiers came to take him captive in the garden, his very voice had the power to throw them to the ground (John 18:6). “I am he”, he calmly said and in that moment displayed his divinity.

Still, they took him.

The creatures crucified their Creator.

Here was the ultimate kenosis.

Jesus humbled himself and became a man. He took upon himself not just the form of a servant, but a suffering servant. He became obedient unto death, but not just any death – death on the cross.

This was the great self-emptying of a God who so loved the world that he gave up his Son.

Jesus Christ was acquainted with grief that you and I might know joy. He was rejected by men that we might be accepted by God.

He faced hell’s worst in order that you and I might inherit heaven’s best. Jesus was wounded so that by his stripes you and I could be healed.

He endured shame so you and I could inherit glory. He suffered that we might be comforted. He died so you and I could live forever.

Charles Wesley beautifully wrote:

“He left his father’s throne above; so free, so infinite his grace; emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race; tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me!”

After Calvary and the resurrection, God restored his Son’s former glory and his former throne. The Father gave his Son a name above all names; a name so great that at the name of Jesus someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2: 10-11).

Jesus had it all and gave it all up so you and I could receive it all as a free gift.

“Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

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