Jesus was no cheater

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Followers of Christ are supposed to do just that: follow Christ. Few orthodox Christians will deny that emulating Jesus's example is the way to ensure that we're on the right path. However, for me, there was always that nagging sense that Jesus had an "edge" that made it easier for him to live righteously: he was 100% holy, omnipotent, and omniscient God.

For quite some time now I've been mulling something over that has utterly changed the way I see the example that Jesus set while he was here on earth. I was studying Philippians, and I came to rest on the following passage:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:5-11, NASB)

As I went through this passage, several things became apparent to me about Jesus's deity and incarnation. The word that's most relevant to he current discussion, however, is emptied, in verse 7.

The word rendered emptied in the New American Standard Bible is the Greek word kenoo, which means, literally, "to empty." Jesus "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" because he didn't have to grasp it (the Greek word rendered grasp here means "seized.") In other words, Jesus already had equality with God, therefore he did not need to "seize" it. Rather, he surrendered his God-identity, pouring it out and taking the form of bond-servant, and being made in the likeness (or appearance) of men. Jesus, although he was still fully God, willingly limited himself to humanity.

So, here's the rub: as Jesus walked the earth as a man, emptied of his divine identity, how was he able to perform miracles? Did he cheat, sneaking out a bit of his divine power to accomplish feats that appear to defy natural law?

The answer, lies in what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 17:20:

"... I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

I always pictured the disciples thinking "Easy for you to say," but now I see that Jesus was telling them "Follow the example I am setting." We see that they did, as throughout the apostolic era, those very disciples performed miracles similar to the ones that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. Obviously, the apostles did not lay claim to any innate deity. They were exercising utter faith in God.

So all the miracles were performed not by God shrouded in a man-shaped shell, but rather by God, who surrendered his claim to deity and submitted himself to the limitations imposed upon mankind. His command of nature, sickness, demonic forces, and even death was derived not from his innate deity, but from his perfect faith in his Father. What an incredible example this is!

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