I have often heard it said that when Jesus came in human form, he “emptied himself” by voluntarily laying aside some of his privileges as God during the time he inhabited time and space on this earth. If I would be like Jesus in emptying myself then I must understand what that means as Jesus practiced it. If it means laying aside innate powers of God, then I cannot participate in this Christlike act. If, however, Jesus’ act of ‘self-emptying’ was ‘self-sacrifice’ or ‘self-giving’ then I can imitate him in this act. Charles Wesley described our Lord’s pouring out of himself aptly in his great hymn, And Can It Be: “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace! Emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race!” Sacrificial love is the image of God that Jesus displayed and I, as his disciple, must do the same if I hope to accurately reflect the image of the God who is love.
The way of the cross is the way of all true disciples of Jesus. He once scolded Peter very harshly, beginning by calling him “Satan”, and then following that he drove home the necessity of taking up his cross in order to be a Christ follower. I notice that Jesus prefaced that command with a “must.” He said you must deny yourself or turn from your selfish ways. Once again, here we see Jesus urging his disciples to ‘empty themselves’ and practice ‘self-giving’ as he himself did. He teaches them that hanging on to your own life is not only counter to Jesus’ way, it is also a dead-end road. Refusing to pour out your own life for God does not equate to saving your life, but to losing it. In other words, if I try to grasp, hold and horde my life it will be torn from my grasp. The only way to ’keep’ my life as a Christ follower is for me to empty my life into the kingdom of God on earth; to pour out my life into the lives of others in Jesus’ name. This is how I, as a disciple of Jesus, can be most like Jesus. And as I live like my Lord in this way, I will also become a true image bearer of God. Living life as Jesus did is the surest way to provide a clear reflection of the character of the Heavenly Father. It is acting out the self-sacrifice of the cross in our unique way before a watching world.
This is how we bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.