We often think of the sacrifice of Jesus strictly in relation to the cross, where Jesus died as a propitiation on our behalf—satisfying divine wrath for all who receive Jesus by faith (Rom. 3:21-26). But have you ever considered how the sacrifice of Jesus began with the incarnation?
The apostle Paul says it this way in Philippians 2:5-8:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”
In verse six, Paul clearly states the divinity of Jesus when he speaks of Jesus’ “equality with God.” This reminds us that Jesus is not a created being; he is not an angel. He was and is the eternally existing Creator and Sustainer of the universe; the maker of heaven and earth; the Alpha and the Omega. He is the highest, most glorious, and the most powerful entity in existence.
This is why the sacrifice of the incarnation is so beautiful. As our Creator, Jesus could have chosen to remain on his heavenly throne and watch the human race melt away under the power and penalty of sin. He was under no obligation to rescue us by offering himself as a sacrifice of atonement for human sin. And why should he? After all, there was no advantage to be gained for himself by doing so. The only gain to be had was painful suffering.
That is the very point of the phrase, “a thing to be grasped” (v.6). The Greek word from which this phrase is translated denotes exploitation; or holding on to something for personal gain. Paul makes the point that Jesus could have used his divinity—and all the rights and privileges thereof—for his own personal safety, comfort, and advantage.
But instead, Jesus sacrificially relinquished all the rights and privileges inherit in divine power and glory by coming to us as a “servant (literally slave)…being born in the likeness of men (v.7),” eventually dying a cruel death on a cross (v.8). The point of all of this is that Jesus’ immense sacrifice on our behalf should never be limited to his work on the cross. As profound and important as the cross may be, let us remember that there is no cross without the incarnation.
In the incarnation, Jesus sacrificed divine advantage for the benefit of others. The God of glory; the Lord of lords; the King of kings, the Highest of the high, became the lowest of the low when he entered the world in a manger in Bethlehem, all for the benefit of others. Don’t allow this season to pass without fully appreciating all that Jesus Christ sacrificed on your behalf, from the incarnation to his propitiation. Spend time meditating on these wonderful truths and think of ways that you can sacrifice your own rights and privileges in service to Jesus Christ and his kingdom.