Jesus is our example of ongoing self-emptying

Today I can appreciate in a new light how Jesus was our example of making an ongoing decision to empty himself. He did it, and he calls us to do it.

Here's how these ideas have woven together for me. A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I highlighted that Jesus called people to make a decision about him. He provoked a response, and he based his hearers' status with the Father on how they responded to the Son. I talked further about how for us this is an ongoing decision. It is not settled in a one-time "sinner's prayer." Rather, we must "take up our crosses" every day and follow him.

I have also been engaged in an unrelated study about the incarnation of Christ. Specifically I have been thinking about the self-emptying of the Word to become human. Phil 2:7 says that Christ Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness..." The theological term for this self-emptying is kenosis, taken after the Greek word that is translated "emptied himself."

I have always thought of Christ's kenosis as consisting mainly of an initial decision on the part of the divine Word to enter our world as one of us by becoming human. And surely this decision did take place. It was a divine intention that, in its proper time, came to pass.

However, today I was helped to see that the kenosis of Christ was an ongoing decision. In his excellent book The Person of Christ, Donald MacLeod writes, "Every day of the Lord's life he re-enacted the kenosis, renewing the decision which had made him nothing and choosing to move further and further into the shame and pain it involved." That is, at every moment of his life, Jesus was living out a perpetual decision not only to be one of us, but also to be our slave. I am not sure we can ever fully appreciate the magnitude of the kenosis of Christ.

And this is how Jesus' kenosis is our example. When he told his followers that in order to be his disciples, they needed to surrender everything, even their own lives, and when he added that they needed to take up their crosses and follow him every day, he wasn't just laying out religious requirements. He was calling us all into the life he lived on a daily basis. Not only that, but our sacrifices pale in comparison to the ongoing self-emptying of the divine Word to become a human, and then a slave to all humans, and then a sacrifice for his fellow humans. Truly -- indeed, in ways we will have all eternity to explore and appreciate -- Jesus is our example of ongoing self-emptying.

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