How did the Son of God appear when he came to earth? Like Superman? No. Like an Emperor with a vast entourage? No. As a golden-tongued prophet who could make people weep or laugh at will? No.
Paul says that when Christ came to earth, he made himself ‘nothing’ and took ‘the very nature of a servant’.
Yet he was speaking of one who ‘is, in very nature, God’. For Christ is the image of God, the likeness of God, and the glory of God.
Christ is everything that makes God God – everything that makes the angels worship the Almighty. But, at the same time, he also became a real servant.
To lordship he adds servant-hood. He always was the Master and Sovereign of the universe, but now there is something new. He has becomes a suffering servant.
Sit back and let this truth dawn on you. It is not that, 2000 years ago, the man Jesus thought he was God. He was and is God.
He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable – the only God there is. Nor did he just imitate a servant – he truly served!
The Son of God took a basin of water and the towel. He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. He dried their feet with his towel – even between their toes! And that was just one of his acts of service.
There was no pretence about his role. This was no tokenism. He wasn’t doing his ‘servant thing’. God actually becomes a doulos – a slave.
Some of you know doulos as the name of a ship that sails around the world bringing Christian literature, education and a ministry of mercy. That ship serves the world. So also, in a far greater way, did Christ.
As a servant to his Father, the Son of God was under obligation. He was made to perform certain duties just as his master required. ‘Live in Joseph’s family in Nazareth,’ said his heavenly Master. ‘Yes, my God,’ replied Jesus.
So he carried out menial tasks – helping at the table, carrying water from the well, feeding the animals, running errands. He willingly bore daily responsibilities for parents, for baby brothers and sisters, and for elderly neighbours down the street.
Later, as we have seen, he served the disciples whom he chose. When he met his enemies head-on, he also loved and served them.
His spirit was cheerful throughout all of this: ‘I delight to do thy will, O God,’ he cried, in the prophetic words of the Psalmist.
All this time he was acting as our representative and head – as our surety and substitute. It was for us that he fulfilled all righteousness (something we have failed spectacularly to do).
His service culminated at the cross. ‘He humbled himself and became obedient unto death’. Why? That he might redeem to God a great multitude out of every tribe and tongue, kindred and nation (Philippians 2:8; Revelation 5:9).
What a delightfully fulfilled life it is to serve God. Christ Jesus was the happiest man in the whole world as he did the will of God.
None has ever been happier. Of him the psalmist wrote: ‘God has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions’ (Psalm 45:7).
Happy are the servants of the living God! Blessed is the Master whom they serve.
But who are you serving? No one, you might reply. But that is not true. Everyone is the servant of something.
Committed to a cause
Eric Hobsbawm (aged 85) is one of the most famous historians in Britain today. He has written an impressive quartet of books on modern history from The Age of Revolution to The Age of Extremes.
His autobiography, called Interesting Times has just been published. He has been a communist for fifty years, serving the cause of Karl Marx.
He still lives for the triumph of socialism – in spite of all the shattering revelations that emerged in the twentieth century concerning the corruption and tyranny of dialectical materialism.
He is totally committed to that cause. He looks back in his book and describes the hold the Communist Party had over him and his fellow members.
‘The Party’, he writes, ‘had the first, or more precisely, the only real claim on our lives. Its demands had absolute priority. We accepted its discipline and hierarchy. We accepted the absolute obligation to follow “the lines” it proposed to us, even when we disagreed … We did what it ordered us to’.
Millions have served Marx like that – as millions more serve pleasure and self or some other idol. Everyone lives for something, including you. No one is free. God the Son came to serve his Father. In that service he found perfect freedom. So shall we, if we become followers of Christ.