Last week I shared the awe-inspiring truths of how Christ left heaven to become conceived in Mary’s womb, being named Jesus as per the angel Gabriel’s instructions. Christ is the Son given, Jesus is the baby born – to us!
Let us examine the words of Philippians 2:7-8 a little closer: “…but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.”
The Greek word used for ‘made Himself of no reputation’ is ‘ekenosen’, literally, “He emptied (Himself).”
Of what did He empty Himself? Not His divine nature, rather He gave up the glory He had with the Father ‘before the world was’. (John 17:5)
He did not selfishly exploit His position as God’s Son, but by His own decision laid down all His rights and privileges as Son to become the child born so He could bring us to the Father by His sacrifce. Amazing grace!
Can We be as Meek and Lowly
Paul instructs us in the previous verse to ‘Let this same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself’ – Paul calling on us to not exploit our position in Christ which we have wholly and completely by His grace, but instead lay down that thinking to become mere (humble) servants as He did.
The Greek word ‘form’ as in ‘took upon Him the form of a servant’, is ‘morphe’, where we get ‘metamorphosis’. Christ underwent a transformation, emptying Himself of all rights and privileges in heaven, to be ‘made in the likeness of men. Thus ‘morphe’ is unseen, the spiritual event of leaving heaven to be conceived in Mary’s womb.
“…and finding Himself fashioned as a man”, ‘fashioned’ refers to His outward appearance. But this was no play acting. He didn’t only appear to be a servant, Christ in the flesh, He was exactly that. He had undergone a metamorphosis and was living among men as a real, live, man. Amazing!
And Now, a Little History
The area around Bethlehem, literally ‘house of bread’, as you can tell by its name, was rich in fields and pastures.
When the people of the new nation, Israel, spread across the land, a total of 48 cities and their suburbs were given to the Levites to live in, and for their flocks. And as early as Judges 17, we see Levites living there. (Joshua 21:2, 41-42; Judges 17: 7,9,19:2)
You will also recall that King David was from Bethlehem, and I Samuel 17:15 tells us David left King Saul “to tend his father’s sheep in Bethlehem”. So the area was long a place for shepherds and flocks.
As the young nation’s population grew, and under King David became settled, there were more Levites than openings for priestly duties in the temple. Therefore David expanded the duties of the Levites beyond what Moses and Aaron and their families had done.
David appointed them as officers, judges, gatekeepers, assistants to priests, overseeing the courtyards and the dining rooms where food was served that had been offered in sacrifices, weighing and measuring various offerings and tracking non-food offerings, and even guard duties.
Levite musicians were organized into 24 unites, very much like the priestly terms of service, serving in rotating shifts. (I Chronicles 23, 25-26; II Chron 35:3-5, 10)
Back to Bethlehem
Over the centuries from David’s time in about 1,000 BC to 1,000 years later in Jesus’ day, the Levites’ diversified role in society had continued to grow.
As the population continued to increase, and city-centers became ever larger. That meant fewer and fewer people raised their own crops and livestock, but instead relied on farmers and shepherds in the country to bring their produce and stock to the city markets.
But God’s law in the Old Testament was firm – animal sacrifices were part of being Jewish – but with fewer and fewer country dwellers, where would all those animals come from?
And so it was that over the years the Levites who couldn’t serve in the temple expanded their duties to become shepherds and ranchers and bird-raisers and (money changers) and such so people could buy those animals and change convert currency at the temple to be sacrificed to God. (This is why and to whom Jesus’ anger was directed when he overturned the stalls and money changers tables in the temple.)
Oh, So that’s Why…!
The main area the Levites raised the animals for temple sacrifice was in and around Bethlehem.
“And there were in the same country shepherds staying in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. An lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were very afraid.
And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:8-11)
You see, keeping the divine order, the Father sent the angels to Levite shepherds, the priests – unto YOU is born this day.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host (army) praising God and saying; ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
NOT I Have Good Will to You, and You to Me
First note this is the army of heaven – that is what ‘heavenly host’ means. The word ‘host’ is King James English for ‘army’. The Father sent His army to tell the shepherds the Great Shepherd had been born.
Why the army? Because the Father was calling a peace treaty between Himself and mankind. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not charging their trespasses unto them (but unto Jesus) and has given us the word of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5:19)
The angels were telling the shepherds – God says “Peace on earth (I have) good will toward man!”. This saying, perhaps more than any other in this time of year, has been twisted from its original meaning.
The Father isn’t saying ‘you all get along now because my Son was born’. He was saying ‘I am calling off the army of heaven, I have peace and good will toward man, because my Son who will reconcile all things back to Me, has been born!”
Wow…The Father is at peace with you. The proof is Christ’s willingness to be part of the plan to reconcile earth and heaven. Let your will be done Father, in earth as it is in heaven, for you are at peace with us, and we with you, by your amazing grace!
More on the wonder of Jesus next week. Merry Christmas!