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What exactly did Jesus give up when he was born on the earth?

To answer a question about Jesus giving up anything by leaving heaven to become human for a time, we first need to accept the preexistence of Jesus, at least as far as the Christian faith is concerned. Throughout the early years of the Church there was no little discussion on the preexistence of Jesus as the son of God. Although in the end those who denied the preexistence of Jesus were considered heretical (not of the “true” faith), there had been many adherents to the notion that Jesus came into existence at his birth. However, because John’s gospel was last of the four gospels to be written, it seems clear he wrote passages specifically to refute those who denied the preexistence of Jesus.

For instance, in the first chapter John wrote a lengthy prologue that includes direct references to the preexistent Jesus. “Through him [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1.3). Additionally, theologians have long pointed to Genesis 1.26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make humans in our own image’” as a reference to God speaking to Jesus at the creation.

Further, Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2.6-7). Clearly, the early church leaders believed that Jesus existed before his incarnation, his physical birth.

So, what did Jesus “give up” in his birth? When I initially read the question I thought to myself that it was rather obvious what Jesus had “given up.” While dwelling in the heavenly realm Jesus was omnipotent (all powerful), he was omniscient (all knowing), and was literally worshipped by the heavenly beings as well as those who entered into the heavenly realm from the human realm.

However, as I pondered the question it occurred to me that many believe Jesus gave up little to dwell upon the earth, save that he was “stuck” in a human body. But if Jesus was indeed God and chose to live among us as a mortal for a time, and if indeed his life was as a human who experienced every temptation (Hebrews 4.15), then he gave up more than just his heavenly “body.”

So, what did he give up? For one, if Jesus was fully human then all his “super powers” were not his at all. Instead, Jesus’ relationship with God above was such that he was able to tap into the power of God to do his ministry. Which means his promise in John 14.12 that his followers will be able to do all the things he did and “even greater things than these” is more than just words. 

Secondly, all that wisdom and apparent foreknowledge of what was on people’s minds that Jesus had is available to us (it’s called the gift of knowledge and discernment and is mentioned in 1st Corinthians 12).

But probably the most humbling aspect of Jesus’ appearance on earth as a full human being is that he gave up his dignity. In the heavenly realms Jesus is all-loved and all-worshipped and all-respected. However, on earth Jesus intentionally put himself into the hands of his own creation. Born into a borrowed feed trough in a borrowed stable, he gave up the trappings and furnishings of God. Then, as a child like us, Jesus submitted to perhaps the ultimate indignity—Mary had to change his diapers (now there’s a whole new picture to dwell upon—God giving up even this dignity). Further, he submitted himself to the authority of his parents. And to his teachers. And to the Roman soldiers. And to the government. Jesus paid his taxes (Matthew 17.24-27), and even had to depend on women to support him (Luke 8.1-3), which, in his day, would have been a humbling experience. 

During the next few weeks most of our readers will be bustling to get ready for the holiday season and all the expectations thereof. However, as we ready ourselves it might be a good thing to remember to offer up a word of thanks, on this the celebrated anniversary of Jesus’ voluntary dethronement, for all God gave up to visit us.

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