16/01/2014

The Exaltation of Christ

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Introduction
    Our text begins with the word ‘therefore’. Of course, whenever you see a ‘therefore’, you must ask, ‘well, what is it there for?’ This is the great turning point in the grand drama of redemption.  This hymn to Christ as God began by focusing upon the humiliation and sufferings of Christ. But now our attention is drawn toward His exaltation. This ‘therefore’ is the linchpin that holds together the two states of Christ. ‘Therefore God has highly exalted Him’. His exaltation is the reward for His humiliation. Because He was obedient, because He humbled Himself, God has highly exalted Him. God has raised Him to the highest height. He has not merely exalted Christ, He has highly exalted Him. He has raised Him from the most abject condition to the highest elevation. He has lifted Him up. Our minds are often so averse to the idea of humiliation and debasement. Humility is seen as something to avoid. But we are called to be imitators of Christ. We are called to crucify self. We are called to die to ourselves. We are called to be humble people. The exaltation of Christ is the great incentive to imitate His humility. The saying is trustworthy: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him (2 Timothy 2:11-12).  Everyone who humbles himself will be exalted. The Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

    Of course, this ethos is completely contrary to the spirit of the world. The world is looking for proud, confident, self-exertive people, but the calling of the Gospel is humility. Our Lord Christ says, ‘blessed, happy, are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. Heaven does not belong to the proud and arrogant. It belongs to the poor in spirit. Heaven belongs to those who have seen their sinfulness before a holy God and humbled themselves. You remember the hymn in which Wesley says:

Just and holy is Thy name;
I am all unrighteousness
Vile and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of grace and truth.

    The Lord Christ is just and holy. He is full of grace and truth. And yet He did not think it too much to humble Himself. By way of contrast, we are all unrighteousness. We are vile and full of sin. We have every reason to be ashamed of ourselves. And yet so often we are proud. Oh my friend, look to Christ. You cannot truly look to Him without feeling something of your absolute destitution and emptiness. Those who have seen something of their poverty and come as helpless sinners to Christ, will be exalted with Him and lifted up to glory. ‘Who would now be reluctant to exercise humility, by means of which the glory of the heavenly kingdom is attained?’ (Calvin). More than all we need is to be found in the Lord Christ. But are we too proud or too stubborn to humble ourselves and come to Him? ‘Was Christ first humbled and then exalted? Let us learn that the way to true honour is humility’ (Thomas Watson). He who humbles himself shall be exalted. The way to rise is to fall. The way to ascend is to descend. Such humility is the repentance of our pride. It is the repentance of our dependence upon self. It is to cast ourselves, in all our helplessness, wholly and totally upon Christ. ‘Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child’, said the Lord Christ, ‘the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:4).
    
    1] We have before spoken of Christ’s humiliation; we shall now consider His exaltation. We have seen the sun setting; now we shall see it rise. His whole person is lifted up by God to the highest place. This is what Paul means by the phrase ‘God has highly exalted Him’. With regard to His divine nature, this can only mean that His full glory as God is fully recognized. You cannot add to the divine glory, for it is infinitely glorious. As light is inherent to sunshine, so the glory of deity is inherent to the Lord Christ. His exaltation is the full manifestation or the complete revelation of the glory that He had with the Father before the world was made (John 17:5). No longer is He the hidden Christ. No longer is He God incognito. Rather, the beauty and glory of His deity is fully revealed. Of course, the proper exaltation was of His human nature. God has highly exalted this man Jesus. Flesh and bone now sit upon the throne. What a thought! There is a human heart beating with love in heaven above:

That human heart He still retains,
Though throned in highest bliss;
And feels each tempted member's pains;
For our affliction’s His.

    He knows our every weakness. He was tempted in every way, yet without sin. There is a sympathetic Saviour pleading for lost sinners in heaven above.  Yes He is greatly exalted, but not unapproachable. He is a gentle and compassionate Saviour who knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He is our exalted Lord and Saviour. He is the high King of heaven and our great High Priest. He is the glorious Judge of the world and the gentle shepherd of His people. He is powerful to save and able to sympathise. And if we approach Him in true faith, then we have no need to fear. The very same Christ who said, ‘Whosoever comes to me, I will never cast out’, is the Christ who sits upon heaven’s throne. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) captures the wonder of this so beautifully in his book Christ’s Exaltation Purchased by Humiliation:

Oh it is a sweet meditation, to think that our flesh is now in heaven, at the right hand of God; and that flesh was born of the virgin, that it was laid in the manger, that went up and down doing good, that was made a curse for us and humbled to death, and lay under the bondage of death for three days; that this flesh is now glorious in heaven, that this person is Lord over the living and the dead... Beloved, study Christ in the state of humiliation and exaltation.

    Some, when they have been promoted to a prestigious position, forget their roots. They forget their friends. The chief butler forgot about Joseph when he was restored to his position at Pharaoh’s court. Christ does not forget. Though He is greatly exalted in heaven above, He has not forgotten His people. Yes, indeed, ‘we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens’. But He has not forgotten us. ‘For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:14-15). The same Jesus who welcomed tax collectors and sinners here on earth now sits enthroned in heaven. This is the One who is touched with our frailty and knows our humanity. This same Jesus stills calls sinners to come to Him and be saved. Your sins may be many and your iniquity great, but He cries out to all who will listen ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. He invites you to come to Him, lean into His breast, and feel the love-beat of His beautiful heart. Here in the person of Christ, we find meekness and majesty conjoined. ‘It is a sweet, gentle and a holy majesty, and also a majestic meekness; a profound sweetness; a high and great, and holy gentleness’ (ad. Edwards).      

    The exaltation of Christ did not take place in an instant. There was an order of service, so to speak. There was a ceremony of elevation, a royal procession: His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, His sitting down at the right hand of God, and one day, His return to judge the living and the dead. So, there is this process, this certain definite order. I would like us to consider each of these elements in turn:

    1] Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. ‘On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:1-3). He was not there because He had risen from the dead. This is not myth. This is not pseudo-history. This is scriptural fact. It is true truth. At a particular point in space-time history, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The Scriptures testify to this fact. All four Gospels speak of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. The rapid growth of early Church as recorded in the book of Acts is based upon and insists upon the truth of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul regarded the resurrection as the indisputable proof that the Gospel message about Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is true. The evidence of Scripture is clear and demands your belief. You are confronted with this reality. The tomb is empty. He is not there. He left the folded grave clothes. He rose in the same body in which He suffered. Were you there at that time, you could have stood upon the stone that rolled away; you could have walked into the empty tomb and looked upon the folded grave clothes. When he appeared to Thomas, you could have walked up to Him and placed your fingers into his hands and side.

    These are the facts which Scripture relates. But they are not brute facts. They are not devoid of meaning. His resurrection is the visible declaration that He is the true Son of God; that He satisfied divine justice; that vanquished sin, death, and hell; and that He is the Lord and Judge of the living and the dead. He died as a public spectacle, but He rose as a public person. He rose as the representative and head of His Church. The divinity of Christ finds its surest proof in the resurrection.[1] He ‘was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4). His sovereignty is displayed most gloriously by His resurrection. ‘For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living’ (Romans 14:9). Our justification hangs upon His resurrection. The Apostle Paul says that ‘He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). The new birth, that new life in Christ, is the fruit of His resurrection. Peter says, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). And, most certainly, our ultimate assurance of eternal life rests in the resurrection of our dear Lord Christ. ‘If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you' (Romans 8:10-11). Charles Spurgeon once said that ‘The silver thread of resurrection runs through all the blessings of salvation, from regeneration onwards to our eternal glory, and binds them all together’. It is the keystone in the arch of Christian doctrine. It is that final piece of masonry which locks together the stones of Christian truth. So let us praise God, for He is risen; He is risen indeed!

    2] Jesus Christ was taken up into heaven. Luke says, ‘while He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up onto heaven’ (Luke 24:51). He did not leave His disciples with riches and wealth, but He left them with His blessing. ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:20). He left them which such comforting words. What a delight it is to know that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He who took such pain to buy our pardon will not forget us. He will be with us always. He ascended victoriously knowing that His work on earth was completed. He had triumphed over sin, hell and death. This triumph is for the comfort of every believer. He has conquered your sin, saved you from hell, and delivered you from death. Moreover, He did not leave us without help or hope as we struggle through this passing world but gave us His Spirit to be our comforter in sorrow and our helper along the way. This is the fruit of His ascension, for ‘when He ascended up on high, He gave gifts to men’ (Ephesians 4:8). One of the puritan writers said that, ‘His ascension to heaven causes the descension of the Holy Spirit into our hearts... Having ascended up in the clouds, as His triumphant chariot, He gives the gift of His Spirit to us; as a king at His coronation bestows gifts liberally on His favourites’ (Thomas Watson). The Holy Spirit was Christ’s inseparable companion here on earth. He was there at His Baptism (Matt. 3:16), by His power Christ healed the sick, made lepers clean, gave sight to the blind, enabled the lame to leap, and even raised the dead. Such was the Spirit’s involvement in Christ’s ministry that the Pharisees who attributed the miracles of Christ to the devil, were said to have blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32). And, the Spirit Himself was intimately involved in the resurrection of Christ (Romans 8:11). So in giving us the Spirit, we too have an inseparable companion, a lifelong friend, by whose power we are born again, put to death sin, and bear spiritual fruit in keeping with repentance. He may not have left His church with wealth and riches, but He has given us something far greater – the Spirit of God.     

    3] Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of God. ‘After he had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 1:3). God is spirit. He doesn’t have bodily parts like hands and feet. The Scriptures speak to us using this kind of language in order to help us understand the deep things of God. The Protestant Reformer John Calvin once said that God ‘lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children’. In other words, God puts things to us in a simple manner so that we can understand. This idea of Christ sitting at the right hand of God is a metaphor taken from the behaviour seen among kings and lords. The most prestigious guest is seated at the right hand of the king. The closer you are to the king, the higher your status among the nobles. That Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand is a testimony to His immense dignity and honour. The remarkable thing is that the human nature of Christ, by virtue of its personal union and communication with the divine nature, is now seated on the royal throne of heaven, and is adored even by the angels. See how greatly God has ennobled human nature and crowned it with glory. Surely, this points towards that coming day of glory, when our bodies will be miraculously reunited with our souls and transformed into heavenly temples fit for the eternal service of God in the new heaven and earth. You all know the vivid words of Paul on this subject. ‘Behold! I tell you a mystery. We will not all be asleep when Christ returns (He could come tomorrow), but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed. The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immorality’ (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). These bodies will be like the resurrection body of our dear Lord Christ, clothed with light and crowned with sunshine, great in glory and fit for the eternal worship of God, never more to suffer injuries, without diseases and pains, never to die again. Then shall the prophecy be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ Death shall be eternally dead. Everlasting communion (fellowship) with the three Persons will be our eternal delight. We look forward to a new heaven and earth wherein righteousness shall dwell. We look forward to an eternity of glorifying and enjoying God, without the pain and horror of sin.

    In the here and now, the presence of Messiah at God's right hand means that for His people there is now a way of access to God more immediate and heart-satisfying than the obsolete temple ritual’ (F. F. Bruce). The high priest had access to God only once a year, but we can come to God through Christ freely. It is such a comforting thought to know that our dear Lord sits at the right hand of God. So that ‘whatever prosperity or defeat may occur in our lives, whatever may come our way, there is one thing constant, one thing that remains steadfast and certain, that Jesus Christ has sat down at the right hand the Father; that He rules and reigns over all (ad. Karl Barth). Rejoice the Lord is King!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

One of the Puritans, Thomas Watson, captures the ever increasing glory of the Lord Christ’s exaltation: ‘In His humiliation He descended so low, that it was not fit to go lower; and in His exaltation He ascended so high that it is not possible to go higher. In His resurrection He was exalted above the grave, in His ascension He was exalted above the starry heavens, in His sitting at God’s right hand He was exalted far above the highest heavens, ‘Far above all heavens’ (Ephesians 4:10).

    4] Jesus Christ is exalted as Judge of the whole earth. ‘He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41). This is not a popular point to make. It has never been popular. But it is a biblical point. None used stronger or more alarming language that our dear Lord Christ concerning the future of the ungodly. There are some who would ease you with false comforts by not speaking of death and judgement. Such men speak peace when there is no peace. I would rather warn you about the reality of eternal judgement and see you snatched as a brand from the burning, than sedate you with sentimentalities and see you cast into the outer darkness of hell. My friend, it is true that Christ will return to this earth to judge the living and the dead. The Father has committed all judgement to the Son (John 5:22). On that great day, He shall appear and men will cry out to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall upon us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (Revelation 6:16). The great day of wrath shall come, and who among us will be able to stand? It will be an awesome day. All too often we have a false picture of Jesus. We think of Him as our hip, blonde haired, blue eyed surfer dude. But on that day His eyes will blaze like fire. His robe will drip with the blood of His enemies. His army shall be clothed in fine linen, white and pure, and will follow Him on white horses. And from His mouth shall come a sharp sword with which He shall strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the almighty. On His robe and on His thigh, His name will be written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He shall judge the judges of this world, the bankers, the tax collectors, the politicians and councillors. Kings and queens will leave their thrones and come to the bar of His judgement. You will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and be required give an account for your life. But do not despair! Knowledge of a future judgement is a summons to repentance now.

    Today is the day of salvation. Now is the appointed hour. Repent, turn away from your sin and flee into the arms of saving Christ while there is yet time. Do not harden your hearts. Deliverance is freely offered to you in the Gospel. Only they who believe in Jesus Christ shall be saved: and those who are without Christ have no hope, neither in life nor in death. What a miserable thing to be without Christ! During the latter part of the 18th century, John Elias lamented the misery of men without Christ, and oh how God’s people today echo his cry: ‘To be without Christ! Oh! Oh! The dreadful condition of a man without Christ! He is naked, and without anything to put on; he is sick and without a physician; he is famished but there is no bread for him; he is guilty, but there is no righteousness for him; He is vile, but there is no fountain for him to wash in; He is lost, forever lost, and without a redeemer; He is damned, and there is no salvation for him... But blessed be God! Every man without Christ, need not be so any more. You can have Christ this very moment. (ad. John Elias). Here is a Saviour for you. Here is one who can wash you, and though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool. There is mercy for you. Christ’s loving arms extend to meet you. But oh! How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? God has highly exalted the Lord Christ as the judge of the whole earth. But is He exalted, is high and lifted up in your heart?   

    2] Secondly, I would like us to consider the deity and sovereignty of Jesus Christ.  Verse nine of our text does not say that God gave Jesus ‘a name which is above every other name’. No. Jesus didn’t get a name. He didn’t get given any old name. He got given the name: the name above every name. And there is only one name that matches such a description: the name Jehovah God (Yahweh). This is such a holy, such a sacred name, that Jews will not even utter it. Paul is saying that Jesus is Jehovah God. This is the most elementary confession of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Jehovah. He is Yahweh. He is God. Verse ten is drawn from Isaiah 45:23 where Jehovah God Himself says, ‘Unto me every knee shall bow and every tongue confess’. Jews will not bow the knee to angels, men, rabbis, kings, priests, or prophets. They bow only to God. Every knee will bow to Jesus Christ, not because He was great guy or a prolific moral teacher, but because He was and is the almighty God. He is the Lord. He is the Lord of lords and King of kings.

    This means that we have an obligation to bow the knee to Christ. If He is not Lord then He is not worthy of our worship. If He is not God then our worship is idolatry. Athanasius, one of the early Church Fathers, fought tooth and nail for this doctrine, because this isn’t just another dogma. This isn’t just a point to be toyed with on the playground of theologians. The life and soul of the Christian Church hangs upon this one point. He is given this title, this name, this honour, because He is God. Calvin puts it like this: ‘The meaning therefore is this, that supreme power was given to Christ and that He was placed in the highest rank of honour, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or on earth that is equal to His, and from this it follows, that it is a name or dignity that belongs to God alone’. If we worship the Lord Christ, then we must worship Him as the true and living God.

    This Lord Jesus Christ, as God, is sovereign over all things. This is what Paul means by the words, ‘At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’. There is a totality here expressed by that word ‘every’. None are excluded. All must bow the knee to Jesus Christ. All must submit to His Lordship. There is no realm within creation where Christ does not reign. He is the Lord of heaven, earth and hell. In heaven the angels and glorified saints willingly bow and adore this great God and Saviour. On earth many pretend that Christ is not Lord, but their hearts are in His hands. He is in charge of their eternal density. Men and women ought to bow before Him and they will be judged for their failure to submit to His Lordship in this life. Under the earth, in hell, even there He is Lord. For there His enemies have been placed under His feet. ‘These three groups include all created personal beings. One day, all shall bow in submission and make this confession either with joy or with dismay’ (ad. Lenski).

    Abraham Kuyper was a Dutch politician, a journalist, philosopher, statesman and theologian. Between 1901 and 1905 he served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands. One of his most valuable points concerns the lordship of Christ and its relationship to human existence. He is famous for this saying, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”’. For Kuyper, life could not be divided into two parts as some like to do. On the one hand there is your spiritual life, with which you are occasionally concerned, and on the other hand there is your every day, tangible life to which you devote most of your time and energy. ‘No’, says Kuyper. There is one Sovereign Lord, and therefore there is one, unified human life lived under and in the light of Christ Lordship. Of course there are many spheres of human existence and activity but Christ’s Lordship encompasses them all.

    Suppose I had a great blackboard behind me and upon it I draw numerous circles highlighting all the areas of human thought and existence. The would be a circle labelled art, another science, another philosophy, music, politics, religion, geography, history, math, computing, literature, sport, medicine, agriculture, business, the family, retirement, and so on. Kuyper’s point is this: around all these smaller circles there is one great circle, a circle called ‘the Lordship of Jesus Christ’. Do you understand? Christ is Lord of everything and all life is to be lived in light of His Lordship. He is Lord in your office, Lord in your workplace, Lord in your college, Lord at the university, in the lecture-hall, on street, in the school, at the cafe, even in cinema. He is Lord in your home, amidst your family. He is Lord of your life and even your thoughts. Indeed, the apostle says that we are to bring ‘every thought captive in obedience to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is what it means to bow the knee to Jesus Christ; to bring your whole life under His sovereignty. This is not a new teaching. It is an ancient one. The most basic confession of the Christian faith is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. The early Church, the Reformers, the Puritans, the 18th century Methodists and many others throughout the history of the Church have sought to live by and apply practically the Lordship of Christ to every area of life, for He is Lord of all. Angels, saints, men and devils: Christ is Lord over all!

Jesus! The Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

    The whole trouble with man is that he refuses to submit to the Lordship of Christ. It is the source of all our problems; the wellspring of every woe. You have lived as if Christ were not Lord. You have asserted your own lordliness. You think of yourself as an unrestrained autonomous individual. You have said, ‘I’ll do it my way’. Don’t you know that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God? My friend, you are in desperate need of salvation from the power, presence and penalty of your rebellion against the Lord Christ. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. Don’t you see? There is only one Lord, and you are not Him. So, have you bowed the knee to Lord Jesus? Have you made the confession willingly? Salvation comes to us only through whole-hearted belief in Him. You must yield your life, your soul, your thoughts, your all to the Lord Jesus. This is the only way to be saved.
 
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame’. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For ‘whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:9-13).

You cannot have Christ for your Saviour unless you also have Him as your Lord. It is not possible for anyone to truly receive Christ as Saviour without receiving Him as Lord. He is both Saviour and Lord. Now a man who is truly saved by grace does not delight in Christ as his Saviour, but begrudge Him His Lordship. The true believer hardly needs to hear that He is under serious obligations to obey Christ as His Lord. He loves to serve Christ and submit to Him. It is a believer’s delight and highest privilege. He gladly surrenders his all to this Sovereign Lord Christ who has ransomed his soul. Our submission to His Lordship is the only fitting response to His dying love for us.
  
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

    3] Finally, the ultimate end of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glorification of the Father. This beautiful hymn ends with the words ‘to the glory of God the Father’. ‘You can almost hear the hushed but faith-filled voices of the early Christians singing this last refrain as they gather in secret places, hidden from the persecution of the world, yet looking to a time when every tongue will join in their song’ (James White). The end of the work of redemption is the glory of God. Why did Christ take human nature upon Himself? Why did He walk this earth? Why did He die? Why did He rise again? Why did He ascend to the right hand of the Father? Was it to save sinners? Yes, but that is not the ultimate reason. He came, lived, died, rose and sat down in order that His Father might be glorified. The mercy and majesty of God have been manifest to sinful men through Christ. The Father’s mercy shines forth in Christ’s humiliation and His majesty blazes in the glory of His exaltation. The Father is glorified in the Son.

    There is a danger that we can simply gloss over the last line of this text, and yet it is the very thing that ties the great work of salvation together. The ultimate end of His humiliation and exaltation is the glory of His Father. It is true that the only way of salvation is through the work of Christ, and that God is greatly glorified through the salvation of His people. But, ultimately, Christ died and rose again in order to bring all honour and praise to His Father. There is no selfishness in Him. He desired above all else that He Father should be glorified. The prime place of glory is occupied by the Father. The Lord Christ was jealous for His Father’s glory. In all that He did, He had an eye to the glory of God. So much attention is placed upon us, upon man, and not upon God in many Churches today. But, our worship and hymnology ought to follow the pattern set before us. We ought to sing to the glory of God. Christ died and rose to glorify His Father. That was His chief aim, and we ought to make it ours also. Let us see from this that the Church exists foremostly to glorify and enjoy God. All the glory, honour and praise should be ascribed to Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So let the glory of self diminish, and let a sense of the glory of God increase among us!

    The phrase soli deo gloria was one of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. The phrase means ‘to God alone be the glory’. The concept of giving all the glory to God alone is to be the ambition and motive, the goal and drive, of every Christian. Glorifying God is not limited to the religious sphere of our lives but should permeate into every aspect of daily living. So that whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our lives are to be characterised by this phrase soli deo gloria, so that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11). When men ponder the meaning of life, when they conclude in their hopelessness and misery that life is without meaning, or when they believe that man’s purpose is found in pursuit of his own happiness, then we have the answer; we must boldly proclaim that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever; so much so that 'the glory of God is the silver thread which runs through all our actions'. If a man's aim in life is askew, then all that he does will fall short. He is like an archer shooting at a target using crooked arrows. He must set his eyes upon God and aim for His glory alone.

    Moses’ chief desire was that God should show something of His glory. ‘Show me Thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18) – that was His prayer. Do you know something of that? The psalmist compares His desire for God with the deer who pants for water. ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God’ (Psalm 42:1). Do we know something of this thirsting and panting for God? We pray for our own organised efforts and evangelism; we pray for missionaries and preachers; but do we pray this prayer? ‘Show me Thy glory’. Are we thirsting and longing for a sense of God’s presence among us? How much do we know of this desire for God Himself? ‘My soul thirsteth for Thee, for the living God’ (Psalm 42:2). There is this panting, this thirsting for God Himself. Do we know anything of such desires?

    The Westminster Shorter Catechism opens with a profound question: What is the chief end of man? What is man’s purpose? What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We cannot add to God’s glory, but we can long to know more and more of it. We can seek to honour and adore Him. Do we have an eye to God’s glory in all that we do, think and say? Is He truly our chief end? So that ‘wherever a man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in the family, in commerce, in industry, in his mind, in the arts or the sciences, or whatever it may be, he knows that he is constantly standing before the face of God, and he has strictly to obey Him, and above all, he must aim at the glory of God’ (ad. Abraham Kuyper). He lives under the persuasion that the whole of life is to be lived as in the divine presence. This is his first thought in the morning and his last at night. He lives all life by this mighty fact, so that in all things God is glorified. Are we doing that? Are we living to love Him, adore Him, enjoy Him and serve Him? Or do we seek only to serve and gratify ourselves? Fear God and give Him glory! ‘This should be the single desire of the Christian. Be resolved to glorify God in all that you do. You may desire to see your family brought up well, but only so that God may be glorified. You may wish to succeed at school, or at the university, but only in so far as it enables you to glorify your Maker. You may desire success and prosperity in your business or at the workplace, but only in order that you may promote the glory of your God. You may wish for more gifts and graces, but only so that He may be glorified in your life. The glory of God is to be your one motive in all things’ (ad. C. H. Spurgeon). Was it the Lord Christ’s chief end to glorify His Father? Let it also be our chief end to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
        
A Practical Reflection
    Allow me to close with a practical reflection. I came across this in the Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington. Brown was a leading minster in the Associate Synod during the formative years of eighteenth-century Scotland. His reflection upon Christ’s exaltation is so challenging that it is well worth quoting in full:

If God has so exalted Jesus Christ, why does He not have a higher, - a far higher place in my heart? Why do not all my thoughts, words, and deeds, concur in exalting Him? Why is not my whole conversation in heaven, where Christ is at the right hand of God, and making continual intercession for me? Why am I not always denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, - and looking for the glorious appearing of my great God and Saviour, - and my being forever with the Lord?

    This is the challenge that we are confronted with in the light of the Lord Christ’s exaltation. We must take these things seriously. John Brown was the living embodiment of such warm and practical devotion to Christ. He was a gifted preacher and prolific writer. He began life as a rather poor man and lacked the advantage of wealth and formal education. But God blessed his ministry. He taught himself Greek while working in the fields and his knowledge of Scripture was profound. His Systematic Theology contains 26, 000 proof texts and is rich with deep exegetical insight. Here was a man who loved the Lord Christ. He ends his work on theology with the words, ‘If my soul love not this Lord Jesus, let me be anathema, maranatha, accursed at his coming’. His challenge to the 18th century world is just as relevant today as it was then: ‘If God has so exalted Jesus Christ, why does He not have a higher, - a far higher place in my heart?     

References and Further Reading
Beeke, Joel & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (RHB).
Brown, John, Systematic Theology (Christian Focus)
Calvin, John, Commentaries, vol. xxi (Baker Books)  
Carter, Tom, 2200 Quotations from the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Baker Books).
Henry, Matthew, Bible Commentary: Acts to Revelation, vol. 6 (Hendrickson)
Jones & Morgan, ‘John Elias’, in The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth)
Kuyper, Abraham, Lectures on Calvinism (Hendrickson)
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn D., Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (IVP)
Macleod, Donald, A Faith to Live By (Christian Focus)
Poole, Matthew, Commentary on the Holy Bible: Matthew to Revelation, vol. 3 (Hendrickson)
Spurgeon, Charles H., Sermons, www.spurgeon.org/spsrmns.htm (Accessed 06/01/2014)
Watson, Thomas, A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth)
White, James, ‘Beyond the Veil of Eternity: The Importance of Philippians 2:5-11 in Theology and Apologetics’, www.jesusiscreator.org/?p=298 (Accessed 06/01/2014).  
Wilson, Geoffrey B., New Testament Commentaries: Philippians to Hebrews and Revelation, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth) 


[1] Parts of the following section have been adapted from a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon. See Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol. 8, p. 219. 

13/01/2014

The Humiliation of Christ

‘And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8).

Introduction
   This portion of Scripture is often known as the ‘hymn of Christ’, or ‘the hymn to Christ as God’. Paul, as it were, poetically versifies the great themes of the Gospel; The pre-incarnate glory of Christ, His incarnation, His death, His resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of God. Theology, as far as Paul is concerned, is meant to be lived out, prayed out and sung out. It is not the preserve of ivory tower academics detached from all notions of reality. Rather, our faith is a faith to live by. Paul wrote this magnificent hymn to encourage the Philippians to live to the glory of God by imitating the humility of Christ. In the context, he desired that they should ‘count others more significant than themselves, and look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others’.  So this profoundly theological hymn is born out of such eminently practical discussion. This should not surprise us. The Puritan writer, William Ames, said that ‘theology is the doctrine of living to God’. We live to God when we act in accord with His will, for His glory, and by His power working in us. God desires that His people be humbled minded, by virtue of being united to Christ and through following His example, so that thereby all life is lived to the glory of the Father. Now, much of what I say is going to be theological, but that doesn’t mean inapplicable. There are some Christians who are all head but no heart, and, on the other hand, there are those who are all heart but no head. We tend to polarize between these two extremes. In reality, Gospel truth should grip our minds, touch our hearts and transform our lives. John Calvin writing in The Institutes explains this most eloquently,

The Gospel ... is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possess the whole soul, and finds a seat and a resting place in the inmost affection of the heart ... we have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But it must enter our hearts and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us ... its efficacy ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, take its seat in the soul, and affect the whole man.

    The first thing the Gospel does to a man, when it is savingly written on his heart by the Spirit, is to humble him. All our self-worth, all our pride and significance pale into nothingness in the light of the love of Christ: a love that brought Him, the King of the Universe, from the heights of heaven to the depths of this earth to save His people from their sins. Who cannot be humbled by the God who stoops so low as to wash the feet of sinners? In the Gospel, we see Christ humbling Himself, but in the world we see men exalting themselves. Don’t you understand? We have more sin in our hearts than grace, more spots than beauty (Thomas Watson). Oh let us look on Christ and be humbled. What a strange thing it is when God humbles Himself even to death on a cross, but man exalts himself with vain-glory and pride. What a peculiar thing indeed to see a humble Saviour but a proud sinner! I would like us to consider the meaning and practical uses of verse eight in particular, ‘And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross’.[1]

Doctrines
    1] Firstly, I would like you to see that God’s exceeding greatness necessitated the incarnation of Christ. God needed to take our nature upon Himself in order to atone for our sins. In order to save man, God had to ‘be found in human form’. You see, God as God is simply too immense to make atonement. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. He is immense and free. He cannot be harmed nor humiliated. You cannot cut God. You cannot crush a crown of thorns into His head. You cannot drive nails into His hands nor thrust a spear into His side. He is the untouchable, invisible, invincible God. You cannot ignore God because the heavens declare His glory and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. He is ‘in your face’ because His glory is revealed in all the facts of the universe. In verse six, Paul says that the Lord Christ, before He took a body and dwelt among us, was ‘in the form of God’. The word ‘form’ here is used to denote His essence. Paul is saying that Christ was and is God. He is in the full possession of Deity. He was there in the beginning with God and by Him all things were made. The eternal Son was with His Father before He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. He always was, He always is, and He forever will be God. 

    The Authorised Version puts part of verse six most helpfully: Christ, being in the form of God, ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God’. If you or I were to think of ourselves as being equals with God then it would be as if we were trying to rob God of His glory, but for Christ would not robbery because He is God. He is the eternal Son. He alone is equal with the Father and the Spirit. He does not plunder the household of the Godhead, He is the rightful owner. He has the keys. The Lord Christ is God the Son. But Christ as God, in His pre-incarnate glory, could not atone for sin because of His sheer immensity. Here is the problem: one the one hand, Christ as God was too infinite to make atonement. But on the other hand, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Goats and bulls are less than human. The substitute for sinners had to be fully man. He had to been bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh if he was to stand in the stead of sinners. God is too godlike and divine. Goats and bulls are too goat-like and bull-like to be of any use as genuine substitutes. Do you see the dilemma? Do you see the problem? This is why I make the point that the exceeding greatness of God necessitated the incarnation of Christ. If man was to be redeemed, if atonement was to be made, if sinners were to be saved, then God Himself had to take a body and dwell among us.

    Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century preacher and theologian, wrestled with this dilemma in his History of the Work of Redemption. Edwards sees that the sheer immensity of God necessitates the humiliation of incarnation:

Though Christ as God was infinitely sufficient for the work, yet viewed as to His being and immediate capacity for it, it was needful that He should not only be God but man. If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, He would not have been in a capacity to have purchased our salvation, not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection ... The divine nature is not capable of suffering, for it is ... infinitely above suffering. [Thus] it was needful that He should not only be God but man.

Do you understand? The substitute for sinners had to be a man in order to adequately represent mankind. Thus, Paul says that the Lord Christ ‘emptied Himself’. This doesn’t mean that Christ gave up being God. Rather, this phrase means that He gave up the status and privileges enjoyed by virtue of being God. Even though Christ had the right to all the privileges as the Lord and King of this universe, He gave them up. He didn’t grasp at them. There was not an ounce of covetousness in Him for them. He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. His love for sinners drove Him to the depths and dregs of this earth. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The infinite God took a body and pitched his tent in a bruised and broken world.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

    He came into this world, being found in human form, to bring fallen man back to God. 

    2] Secondly, I would like you to see that the humiliation of Christ consisted in His descent from highest glory to deepest obscurity. Paul says that ‘Being found in human form, He humbled Himself’. The Lord Christ, the maker of all things, the One who cast stars into deepest space, the One who spoke light into being, the One formed man out of the dust of the earth, the One who parted the red sea, the One who brought crashing down the walls of Jericho, the One before whom angles hide their faces, cover their feet, and cry ‘Holy, holy, holy’. This One, this Jesus, this Sovereign Lord, became flesh. The eternal Son of God, stooped down from the lofty heights of glory. This is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten not created, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. This very same Lord Jesus Christ for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man (Nicene Creed). This is the enfleshment of God. The meaning is not that Christ merely seemed to be a man. Paul is not saying that Christ’s body was a mere appearance, a phantom body. It is not as if somehow humanity were projected onto His deity by a trick of light. No! Paul is saying that the Lord Jesus Christ took a three-dimensional, tangible, physical body; a body that could be cut, a body that could bleed, a body that could be passed by and ignored, a body that could die.
  
    As I have already said, this does not mean that the eternal Son left behind His deity; rather, we mean that the Lord Christ, while remaining fully God, assumed another nature in which the glory of His deity was concealed. So here, therefore, is the incarnate Lord Christ, fully God and fully man. Here is Jesus, one person with two natures forever. This is the one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-Begotten, who is to be acknowledged in two distinct natures that are joined inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably in the One Person, our dear Lord Jesus Christ. He took the form of a servant while He retained the form of God. There was no subtraction of Deity, only the addition of frail humanity. Never has there been a greater act of humility. Never has anyone descended from such a height. Never has anyone shown such matchless condescension.

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.
Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

    How resplendent was His glory in heaven? How exceedingly great was His greatness? How marvellous was it to be adored by myriads of saints and angels? Who can fathom the magnificence of the infinite glory that He shared with the Father before the world was made? He is the mighty God, the One who is high and lifted up, the One before whom the prophet Isaiah cried, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amidst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ (Isaiah 6:5). And yet, He gave up the splendour of glory in order to bring fallen sinners, sinners like Isaiah, sinners like you and I, back to God – herein is love. ‘If there were infinite worlds made of creatures loving, they would not have so much love in them as was in the heart of that man Christ Jesus’ (Thomas Goodwin).  

    He was the most humble of all men, even though He alone had the right to be most proud. Not a soul has ever matched the humility of the Lord Christ. He was lowly and meek, though He Himself was worthy of all honour and adoration. The human nature of Christ was greatly ennobled and honoured to be united with the eternal Son of God, and yet not an ounce of His flesh was tainted with pride. The man Christ Jesus was enabled by the Spirit to heal the sick, give sight to the blind and even to raise the dead. Now if we could do such things our heads would swell like great blimps, but no pride was found in Him. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. He knew that He was an infinitely honourable person, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, He knew that He was the heir of His Father’s Kingdom, and yet such was his humility that He was willing to be abased and depressed down and down and down into the depths of human tragedy and suffering, moreso than any other has ever known. Such was His humility that He became the lowest of the low, the least of all, and walked among the scum of this earth.

    Who can believe it? Who can comprehend the fathomless mystery of the incarnation? That God should become man; that God should take human skin, teeth, nails, and hair; that God should take a human mind, a human composition, a human brain; that God should become a baby boy, a child in the manger, and grow in wisdom and stature; that God should have no form or majesty that we should desire Him; that God should be despised and rejected by men and become a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, as one from whom would men hide their faces; that the Word should become flesh and dwell among us; that He should come to His own and find only rejection. None have ever stooped so low as Jesus Christ. Consider the infinite height from which He stooped and consider the great depth into which He came. He stepped down from the right hand of the Father in majesty and was clothed in fail humanity. He didn’t merely trip off the curb, He jumped off Mount Everest.  Here is a man who knows that every knee in heaven and on earth should bend before His awesome majesty, yet He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Here is a man worthy of adoration by ten thousand times ten thousand seraphim, and yet He did not think it too much to wash the feet of His disciples. He did not think it too much to be hunted by foolish Pharisees. He did not think it too much to be the laughingstock of cruel men. He did not think it too much to be crowned with thorns and clothed with mock robe. He did not think it too much to be crucified like an outlaw; to be hung upon a tree like the meanest and lowest criminals.

    But I wonder, have you ever thought about this? He spent thirty years of His life as a complete and utter nobody. The glorious Son of God, the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth, for about thirty years lived in total obscurity. He lived as God incognito, as the undercover Christ. He lived among the working class. He was a poor man. He was a carpenter. He had rough and blistered hands. The God of the universe lived for thirty years on this planet and was totally overlooked and ignored by men and women. He was hidden among the common people.  No-one took a second glance at Jesus. They passed Him by. ‘Jesus, the God of the universe?’ you say, ‘No, Jesus, the carpenter’s son – that’s who He was’.  This is interesting, we often think of His humiliation exclusively in terms of his death upon the cross. The Bible, however, teaches that the whole of His incarnation, from the time of being born as a powerless and helpless baby to the moment of His resurrection from the dead, was His humiliation. This is what Paul says: ‘Being found in human form, He humbled Himself’. He came from highest glory to deepest obscurity.         

    3] Thirdly, I would like you to see that the humility of Christ consists ultimately in His obedience unto death, even death on a cross. Incarnation alone was not enough to save sinners. If all we needed was for Christ to become man then there would have been no need for the cross. The fall of the first man Adam could only be rectified by the death of that second Adam, the Lord Christ. There had to be obedience, even unto death. Theologians have generally made a distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ. Actively, they say, Christ kept the law that we broke. He lived the life that you and I should have lived. Passively, He died. He died our death. He died the death that we should have died. In many ways, the distinction is helpful. But is ‘passive obedience’ the right phrase? This is not really how the Bible speaks of Christ’s death. He was obedient unto death. He was not death’s victim. This is what Christ Himself says, ‘For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’ (John 10:17-18). 

    The Lord Christ was in total control of life and death. He actively chose when to lay down His life and when to take it up again. He chose to die. He chose the exact moment of death and He Himself laid down His life. He said from the cross, ‘Father, into your hands, I commit my Spirit’. He dismissed His own spirit into the hands of His Father. No-one else has ever done that. He could have called down an army of angels to vanquish the Roman soldiers and scatter the mocking crowd, but He didn’t. He was in total control, and, in full exercise of divine sovereignty, He chose to die. He was not passive in dying. He wasn’t a victim at the mercy of wicked men. He was sovereign even over death itself. It was only when He said to death, ‘Now you can take me,’ that death came and took Him. His Father had sent Him into this world to lay down His life. That was His mission, His charge. He consciously and actively fulfilled this.

    He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Notice that there is this emphasis upon the particular manner of His death. He was not lying comfortably at home in bed. He was hung between heaven and earth upon a cross of wood. This death, this particular death, is stressed by the Apostle Paul because it was an accursed, painful, and shameful death – a death cursed by divine law. Cursed is he that hangs on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23). This was a death filled with unspeakable agony. Nails were driven through His hands and feet and the weight of His body hung there. This was the death of a criminal and a slave, not of a free-man, and surely not of a good man. This death was a public spectacle. You hung where every eye could see you in all your shame, nakedness and agony. He was obedient to the point death, to the point of this death, the death of the cross. Such was the obedience of our Lord Jesus.

    Now, there is one very important question that we must ask in order to understand the exact nature of His obedience. I came across this in Gary Williams’ book, Silent Witnesses, in a chapter on ‘Jonathan Edwards and the Infinite Dying Love of Christ’. The question that I would like to ask is this: what was on the mind of Christ as He died? What was He thinking? What thoughts filled His mind? This is solemn and serious question. We know that Christ’s mind was active and thoughtful as He died because of His seven sayings from the cross. Unconscious men do not speak in articulate sentences. He has thoughts as He dies and He articulates them with words. So we know that He was fully conscious and fully aware of His surroundings. He knew why He was there, hanging between heaven and earth. He knew that He was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. He knew that He was the good shepherd who had to lay down His own life for the sheep. He knew that He was carrying the enormous load of human sin and sorrow upon His shoulders and suffering the punishment for the sins of God’s elect. He knew that He was bearing the wrath of all-holy Jehovah against the horror of human sin. He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s will. He was conscious of these things. Yet despite all of this, there was a very real difference between what sinners will suffer eternally in hell and what Christ suffered on the cross. Christ, despite carrying the weight of sin and propitiating the wrath of God, knew that His Father loved Him as His one and only Son. The lost will never know anything of God’s love in hell. I make this point because some have criticised the evangelical view, the Biblical view, of the cross of Christ as being ‘cosmic child abuse’. But I want you to see that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in the darkest darkness of Calvary Christ knew that His Father loved Him. Jonathan Edwards puts it like this:
 
Christ suffered the wrath of God for men’s sins in such a way as He was capable of, being an infinitely holy person who knew that God was not angry with Him personally, knew that God did not hate Him, but infinitely loved Him. The wicked in hell will suffer the wrath [of God], as they will have the sense and knowledge and sight of God’s infinite displeasure towards them and hatred of them; but this was impossible in Jesus.

    Yes, the Lord Christ was conscious as He died of God’s hatred for sinners. It wasn’t that God hated Him, but that God hated sinners. He had a sight in His mind of His Father’s hatred for all that is unholy. The sight of God’s wrath and the weight of God’s anger must have filled to the mind of Christ. If it had not then Christ would not have known the exact nature of what He was doing on the cross. He would have acted blindfolded. It would not have been an act of obedience but of folly, a leap in the dark. No! Christ knew full well what the cross entailed, and He endured the cross knowing that the anger of His Father was being vented against all that is unholy. He cries out, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ Not because God had actually forsaken Him, but because, for one awful moment in space-time history, the cloud of the darkness of sin passed over His sight. His mind was filled with dismal views and gloomy thoughts. He saw the horror of sin and the awesome holiness of His Father burning in wrath against human sin. He knew that His Father loved Him, but for a little while He didn’t feel the comfort of it. Who could find comfort amid such turmoil? Christ saw something of the forsakenness that only sinners in hell know. He saw and understood the enormity, the gravity, of what he was doing. But, the Trinity was not torn apart. The Father and the Spirit had not abandoned the One whom they had eternally loved and cherished. No, for that could never be. The Father and Spirit had always loved Him and even in that darkest hour they loved Him. The sunshine of divine love had merely been clouded by the passing gloom of sin. And, so, knowing that the Father still loved Him and knowing exactly what the cross meant, He commits His soul into the hands of His Father. He died knowing that He had done His Father’s will – ‘It is finished!’

    Don’t you see? The more Christ saw of His Father hatred for sin, the more He set His face like flint to obey His Father. This I put to you is what the verse before us means. In the words of Edwards: ‘The more lively His idea of the hatefulness and dreadfulness of sin, which consists in disobedience to God, the more did it engage Him not to disobey Himself, in neglecting to obey that great charge He had received from His Father, that He should drink this cup and go through those sufferings’. The death of the cross therefore was the highest act of obedience. The more Christ saw of His Father’s hatred of sin, the more He determined to obey the One whom His soul loved. Moreover, ‘The more He had a sense of what an odious and dreadful thing sin was, the more His heart was engaged to do and suffer all that was necessary to take away this odious, dreadful thing [called sin] from those that His heart was united to in love, namely those [precious elect people] that the Father had given Him to save’ (Edwards). This is where things get remarkable. The more He saw of the horror of sin, the more He longed to save us from it. Here is the greatness of His obedience: He tasted the bitter cup and drank it to the dregs because He loved His Father and He loved those whom the Father had eternally entrusted into His hands. He loved God and He loved the people that God had given Him to save.

And when I think that God His Son not sparing,
Gave Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died, to take away my sin.
Stuart Wesley Keene Hine (1899-1989)

     Never was my Jesus lovelier than when He hung upon that cursed tree. For there, suffering and dying, He bore our sins and our sorrows and made them His very own. There, upon that cross, the enormous load of human guilt was on my Saviour laid and with woes as with a garment He for sinners was arrayed. There, upon Calvary, He made peace with God for us and purchased our salvation with His own precious blood. There, as He hung between heaven and earth, He died the death that you and I should have died. There, as wicked men reviled Him, the anger of His Father was poured out upon Him for our sin, so that helpless sinners who believe in Him might have everlasting life. There, at the Cross, was He most lovely to sinners; never was He more glorious and desirable than when He came down broken, pierced, lifeless, dead, from the Cross. Oh such unparalleled obedience! Oh such love for sinners!

Practical Uses
    I said at the outset that ‘our faith is a faith to live by’. In other words, we cannot separate doctrine from practice. The great doctrines drawn from our text ought to challenge us and change us. They ought to have a radical affect on our view of the world and how we live our lives. In the light of what we have heard, we must face the question: how then should we live? What should I do with this man, Jesus Christ? And so, I would like to make some pointed applications in the light of the doctrines drawn from this text.

    1] Firstly, have you personally come to the Lord Christ for forgiveness? Have you come to the bleeding feet of Jesus? There is mercy for you there. You may be a great sinner, but Christ is far greater saviour. Oh my friend, if you haven’t come to the cross, if you are not washed in the blood of the Lamb, if you have not humbled yourself before Calvary, if you are not trusting in the Lamb who was slain, then you are on your way to eternal condemnation. Here is Christ. His arms are outstretched wide to welcome sinners. ‘All the day long,’ He cries aloud, ‘I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’. Why will you die? There is mercy even for you at Calvary. Come, come oh sinner, and be washed in the blood of the Lamb. Come to this fountain, life giving and free. Come to Jesus Christ.

    He calls sinners to repentance. He calls rotten wretches like us to come to Him and be saved. ‘Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden,’ He says, ‘and I will give you rest’. Here is a saviour for you. Here is one who can give your soul rest. Here is one who can take away all your sin, and guilt, and shame. Here is one who will wash you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Do you see His cross? Do you see His bloody sweat and agony? He died for sinners like you! Mercy calls you. Break your chains! Come now to Christ, trust in Him and be saved. No one who comes to the Lord in true belief and true repentance shall be cast away. For ‘whosoever comes to me,’ the Lord Christ says, ‘I will never cast out’. No matter how bad your heart, no matter how black your record, no matter how vile you sin, you are welcome to come to Christ and be saved. He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). Come now. Come today and be saved.

    I am not asking you to make an irrational decision. I am not asking you to become an anti-intellectual and give up your reason by taking a leap of faith. The gracious invitation to come and welcome Christ as Saviour and King is based upon Scriptural truth. You have been confronted with the great historical doctrines of Christ’s incarnation and death upon Calvary as they are recorded in the Scriptures. It is in the light of this, that I urge you to come to Jesus Christ and find salvation full and free. For it is the main design of Gospel ministry, to plead with men to give themselves up wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, will you not humble yourself, bow at His feet, and cry ‘Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain’.
      
    2] Secondly, in the light of Christ’s great condescension, do we see the folly of self-righteousness? Do we think that we can save ourselves? What folly! Who of us can do what Christ has done? Would we take it upon ourselves to do the great work of the Saviour? Do we trust in our own works and doings? God had to send His own Son from highest glory to the deepest gloom in order to save His people from their sins, and yet we suppose that that we can save ourselves by our own works and ways. God spent four thousand years providentially orchestrating the day when Christ would come into this world, so that at just the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). Moreover, it took such a person as the Son of God Himself to atone for sin, but you suppose that you can atone for your own sins. Tell me; what sacrifice can you make that will match His? The precious Son of God shed His own blood and bore the enormity of the wrath of a sin hating God in order to save sinners. Have you done that? Don’t you see? When we trust in our own righteousness, we are saying, in effect, that we can do exactly what the Lord Christ did. Don’t you see the folly of self-righteousness? The pride of our own self-worth is a terrible thing. It is the most deadly sin. It appears like a glorious friend, but hides a dagger up its sleeve. Let us lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him. Nothing can condemn a man more than his own self-righteousness; nothing can save him but the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Ad. Spurgeon). The Prophet Isaiah says that ‘all our righteousness is like filthy rags in the sight of all-holy Jehovah’ (Isaiah 64:6). We need a better righteousness than our own. We need an alien righteousness. We need the righteousness of another. We need to humbly accept, with the arms of faith, the righteousness of Jesus Christ as it freely offered to us in the Gospel. For it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17).
     
    3] Thirdly, in the light of Christ’s humiliation, do we feel the paucity of our love towards Him? He loved us so much that He gave up His home in glory to come to this very earth and die the death of the cross so that we might be saved through faith in Him. Yet, so often we feel like the hymn writer, ‘weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought’. The Lord Christ is worthy to be loved simply for who He is, and yet we show so little affection for Him. He is the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys. He is white and ruddy, fair to see. Yes, He is the fairest of ten thousand. He is the One most worthy of our love. He is worthy to be loved as our Creator and Sustainer, but above all, He is worthy to be loved as our Saviour.

    How great is the gratitude that should become us, we who are the subjects of so many great benefits, and have had such great grace shown towards us. We have seen the Gospel, set before us in so affecting a manner, as in the extreme sufferings of the Son of God, who was carried through those pains by a love stronger than death, a love that conquered those mighty agonies, a love whose length and breadth and depth and height passes knowledge! But oh, what poor returns on our part! How little the gratitude! How low, how cold and how inconstant is our affection for Him at the best of times (Ad. Jonathan Edwards). It is a great tragedy when men do not love the Lord Jesus Christ as they ought. It is a terrible thing that we, who profess to believe, should love Him so little. Why, oh why is my heart so cold? Why am I not ablaze with love for this most wonderful Saviour? Oh let us be moved to love Him a little more each day. Let us ask Him to give us larger hearts, and to fan these embers of love into flame. Let us contemplate the greatness of His dying love for us and let our frozen hearts by thawed in the fire of His matchless grace.  

    It may be that you have a heart of stone; a cold, brittle, dead heart. You know that you have no love for Him. Oh my friend, the Lord Christ by His Spirit can take your hard, sin-calloused heart and give you a new heart, with new desires. He can give you a living heart of flesh; a heart that beats with love for Him and for His people. He can melt your heart like candle wax and make you tender to the things of God. Would you truly love Christ? Then you must come to Him and plead with Him for such a heart as this. Make this your prayer:

Melt my heart, O Saviour,
Bend me, yea, break me down,
Until I own Thee Conqueror,
And Lord and Sov’reign crown.
Katharine Agnes May Kelly (1869-1942)

    4] Finally, let us learn, as true believers, to take comfort frequently and often in the infinite dying love of Christ and let us learn to imitate His humility in the light of such love. The doctrine of Christ’s humiliation is the ultimate expression of His love for sinners. He would not have taken such pains for us if He didn’t truly love us. Let us not think harsh thoughts of Him and imagine that He doesn’t love us; rather, let us say ‘My God lives; and He has my heart. I am given to God; and there I am, and love to be’ (Sarah Edwards). Let us tell Him, ‘Lord Jesus, I love Thee. I know Thou art mine’. Oh believing sinner, rest and take comfort in the infinite love of the dying Christ. And, in your reflection upon the love of Christ for you, learn of Him. Imitate His humility. ‘If you love me’, He says, ‘Keep my commandments’. So let us not be proud and puffed up with conceit and vain-glory; rather, let us be humble-minded and Christ-like in all that we think, and say and do. In the words of Paul, ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others’. The love and mercy and grace of our dear Lord Jesus Christ ought to humble us – we who are the undeserving recipients of such matchless grace. I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who said, ‘I know of no consideration which tends more to humble us than the mercy of God. Like Peter’s boat, which floated high in the water when there was nothing in it, but when it was filled with fish it began to sink, our minds are truly humbled when they are filled with a sense of undeserved love’.

    Arthur Bennett’s collection of Puritan prayers and devotions begins with his prayer, ‘The Valley of Vision’. For it is when we are in the darkest valley, when our minds are filled with thoughts of past sins, when the devil whispers to us in the dead of night, ‘you call you self a Christian’, then it is that we truly see brightness of our Lord Christ’s love for us. When we see our utter helplessness, then the mercy of Christ appears most precious to us. The stars of His matchless grace and infinite love shine brightest against the night sky of human sin. When we are bought upon our knees by the weight of our transgressions, oh then how precious does His dying love appear! Then at last we see that ‘the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to gain everything, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision’. The Pharisee stands tall and proud, he praises himself and disparages others, he prays so loud that the whole world can hear him. But the publican, the sinner, he beats his breast and cries ‘God, oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. A person’s pride brings him low, but the lowly in spirit gain honour (Proverbs 29:23). A humble man sees no hope in himself, but everything in Christ. Let the great humility and dying love of the Lord Jesus always be at the forefront of our minds and let us seek to be imitators of Christ, who, being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Amen.

References & Further Reading
Bennett, Arthur, The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Banner).
Calvin, John, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Trans. Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson)
Edwards, Jonathan, ‘A History of the Work of Redemption’, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (2 volume Banner edition)
Marsden, George, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale)
Murray, Iain, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Banner)
Spurgeon, C.H., Catechism with Scripture Proofs (Pilgrim Press).
The Chalcedonian Creed (451 A.D.) 
The Nicene Creed (4th Century A.D.)
Watson, Thomas, A Body of Divinity (Banner) 
Williams, Gary J., ‘The Infinite Love of the Dying Christ: Jonathan Edwards (1703-58)’, in Silent Witnesses: Lessons on theology, life, and the Church from Christians of the Past (Banner).
Wilson, Geoffrey B., New Testament Commentaries: Philippians to Hebrews and Revelation (Banner). 



[1] When preparing this sermon, I was greatly helped by Gary J. Williams’ article on ‘The Infinite Dying Love of Christ: Jonathan Edwards’, and Jonathan Edwards’ sermons on the History of Work of Redemption.