Even against our increasingly relative culture, it seems clear that we as Westerners think in binary terms. Things are right, or things are wrong. Anything that is not directly in line with our thinking is wrong. Though it does not seem like it would be an issue, this manner of thinking causes a difficult dichotomy in the way we think about Jesus – we either think about Him as Savior, or we think about Him as Lord. However, we rarely think about Him as both. We think of Christ as being like us or being nothing like us, but we rarely think about Him as both. Philippians 2 has much to say about these two categories, and it is important to see both categories simultaneously for the gospel to truly reach us.
Jesus is like us.
Philippians 2 makes it clear that part of the remarkable condescension of Jesus was His “emptying Himself,” becoming one of us and dying on the cross (vv. 6-8). Jesus was completely human in every aspect. We have to think deeply about this idea if it is going to resonate with us. The God of the universe, who made time and space, existed within time. The provider of all nourishment and shelter became hungry and homeless. The God of the universe suffered hunger pains. Jesus was mistreated by His friends. The One who knows all things learned. The Living Water thirsted. The Author of all life suffered death.
It should stagger us that Christ is so much like us. It is precisely because Christ became like us that He was able to secure our redemption. God cannot die, so God became a man in order to die for the sins of His church. We do not need a high priest to mediate for us who cannot sympathize with us; we need a high priest who is like us in all ways, yet whose merit is sufficient to cover us. Christ is this man, and He became like us, so He is worthy of our worship.
Jesus is not like us.
One of the things I see that is most common among humanity is that the unknown is irritating. We come up with various theories for why things happen, and if our answers are not satisfactory, it bothers us. This even applies to theology. There is so much about God we cannot understand, and this bugs us. We want God to be a neat package that, given enough time and effort, can be properly and fully understood. However, this seemingly innocent view reveals the secret of our hearts – we want a God who is like us. Not only this, we want a God who fits within our own understanding.
Philippians 2 (along with the rest of Scripture) makes clear this cannot be the case. The same Christ who condescended and was humiliated is the same God exalted as Lord. It is at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and this title given to Him (“Lord”) is a recognition that He is totally beyond us. Certainly there are things about God that we can understand, namely those attributes we share with Him (on an infinitesimally smaller level). We can understand, to some degree, things such as love, justice, jealousy.
However, God is beyond our comprehension as well. This is made plain when studying concepts such as the trinity, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, the eternal generation of the Son, and more. He had to be beyond us if it required His condesencion to reach us. The same God that existed on this planet created all things. He holds all together by His power (Colossians 1), and through Him all things exist. The condescension and death of the Son of God would have no efficacy or impact if He were not God. God’s plan of redemption could not have occurred if God did not become a man, so that One could die in the place of men. It is entirely through the Son of God that we are saved, as He is both the means and the end of salvation.
God is worthy of our worship. When we study the Scriptures, we must fight to not only see the remarkable depths of humiliation Christ suffered for us, but also see the infinite heights of His deity. Christ is immeasurably near to us, and His being like us is of great comfort. Christ is utterly beyond us, and this is wonderful news, because we know He has full authority to carry out all that He wills. These truths on their own are scary–a near Christ with no power has no efficacy, and a distant Christ with full power is terrifying. However, glory be to God, Christ is both like us, and nothing like us.
Micah Russell is a senior at Blue Mountain College in northeastern Mississippi. He is pursuing degrees in Biology and Christian Ministry. Micah is a member at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He enjoys reading good books, drinking good tea and coffee, and playing frisbee and chess. You can follow him on Twitter @micahclay.