Philippians 2:7&8 “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
All of mankind is desperately needs credible role models. “How then should I live? How do I treat members of the opposite sex? How do I treat my children? What sort of man or woman should I try to be? Who is my neighbour, and how do I treat him? Whom should I copy in my own life?” I have sadly come to the conclusion that there are no present heads of state anywhere in the world who are grand examples of courage, wisdom, integrity and restraint. We would love to be proved wrong in that sweeping statement. Please suggest some political figures to us. All of them seem grey-suited men. Deliver us from our pessimism if you are able to. The younger generation in Europe are left with role models from the sporting world, the media and entertainment as their examples, and so their impoverishment is total. One of the most famous journalists in Britain has just written his autobiography. He was interviewed in the Times last week where he was asked whose example has influenced him most in life. He paused for a moment and then said, “I know it sounds naff, but it’s true . . . my mother.”
The Lord Jesus Christ has left us who are his disciples the great example whom we are to follow. He is God’s great definition of a man – the ‘proper man’ as Luther called him. That is why we have this section in this letter. The church at Philippi was being threatened by division, fragmentation and vain-glory. That worldly spirit was ruining the fellowship, and so Paul is appealing to our Lord as the divine role model for them: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” he says in the fifth verse. Then he reminds them particularly in which ways they are to emulate Christ: it is not in his power to turn water into wine or raise the dead but in his self-abasement, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (vv. 6&7). This great statement of the incarnation of the Son of God Paul is bringing to bear on the members of the Philippian congregation. Most of them let it be known that they were aware of their exact status in the church, the founding members knew that they had been there first. The wealthy slave owners knew that they had power. The elders knew that they ruled the church. Others were missionaries or deacons. The groups of women knew their place. Everyone knew his place.
Spurgeon once said something like this, that in class-ridden England a five pound note will not speak to a pound coin, and a pound coin will not notice a 20 pence piece, and a 20 pence will sneer at a 5 pence, and 5 pence will not acknowledge the existence of a penny. It should not be so with Christians, he said. Paul is addressing these tensions in Philippi and he takes their sniffiness about their station and their rank pleading with them that they might be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility considering others better than themselves. It is to encourage such an attitude that the apostle reminds them of what Jesus Christ did. He speaks in the loftiest terms of the Son of God. Let us look at three more of the great acts of Jesus.
1. CHRIST TOOK THE VERY NATURE OF A SERVANT.
How did the Son of God appear when he came to earth? Like Superman? No. An Emperor with a vast entourage and army? No. A golden tongued prophet who could make people weep or laugh at will? No. Paul says that when Christ came to earth, having made himself nothing, he took “the very nature of a servant” (v.7). We have seen that phrase ‘very nature’ already in the previous verse. There is a deliberate contrast intended with the same word being used in both places. Jesus is in very nature God, that is, Christ possesses the image of God, and the likeness of God, and the glory of God. Everything that makes God God, Christ is that. Everything that makes the angels worship God, Christ is that. But Paul is now saying that Christ then becomes a real servant – as surely and as truly as he is God. To Lordship he adds servanthood. His identity is the Lord, the Master and Sovereign of the Universe, but he is the one who in addition becomes a servant.
It is not that he thought of himself as being God: he is God. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, the only God there is. Nor is it that he acted as if he were a servant: he served! God the Son took the basin of water and the towel; he knelt down and actually washed the filth off the feet of his disciples and then he rubbed their feet with his towel – drying between their toes! There was no pretence about his role. This was no tokenism. That was merely one of his acts of service. God actually becomes a doulos. Some of you know that word as the name of a ship that sails around the world taking with it Christian literature and education and a ministry of mercy, serving the world. The Greek word ‘doulos’ means a slave, and that is the word the apostle uses here. Paul is telling us that, “Christ came into an entirely new relationship with the Father. From eternity he was a Son. Now, he becomes a servant, under the law, bound to obey, charged with a work given him to do, and threatened with the direst consequences for himself and all connected with him should his obedience falter. He became a slave, without rights: a non-person, who couldn’t turn to those crucifying him and say, ‘Do you know who I am?'” (Donald Macleod, “The Person of Christ,” Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1998, p.216).
So God the Son is put in a role of obligation, where he is asked to perform certain duties which he has to complete just as his master requires. He carries out hourly tasks, helping at the table, carrying water from the well for his mother, feeding the animals, running errands, bearing all such daily responsibilities for parents, for baby brothers and sisters and elderly neighbours down the street. Later, he serves the disciples whom he has chosen. When he meets his enemies head-on he must also love and serve them. His spirit is cheerful throughout all of this: “I delight to do thy will, O God,” he cries joyfully. You remember that he is acting as our representative and our head and our surety and our substitute when he is the servant. For us he is fulfilling all the righteousness which we have failed to fulfil.
What a delightful 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 had ever been happier, nor has been since. Blessed are the servants of the living God! Blessed is the Master they serve. I commend him to you to become your Master. Who are you serving? Everyone is a servant of something. 85 year-old Eric Hobsbawm is one of the most famous historians in Britain today with a 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 throughout all the shattering revelations of the corruption and tyranny of dialectical materialism in the 20th century. The triumph of socialism is still what he lives for. He is totally committed to that cause. He looks back in his book and he describes the hold the Communist Party had over him and his fellow members: “The Party . . . 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 with it . . . We did what it ordered us to do . . . Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed . . . if the party ordered you to abandon your lover or spouse, you did so.” Millions have served Marx like that, as millions serve Islam with the same fanaticism, and millions more serve pleasure and self. Everyone living for something, everyone of you, spending your lives serving some idol or other. No one free. God the Son came, and he put himself under the blessed God. In that service he found perfect freedom.
Let me explain to you something of Christ the servant:
i] Being a servant meant that Christ was placed under God’s law. Donald Macleod says, “In some ways the most illuminating commentary on these words ‘taking the very nature of a servant’ is in the gospel according to John, in the so-called high priestly prayer, where the Lord uses this kind of language, ‘I have finished the work that Thou gavest me to do.’ There was a definite assignment. You recall that elsewhere in John’s gospel the Lord also refers to his own death within those categories. He tells us that no man took his life from him, he laid it down of himself. ‘This command [to lay down his life] have I received from my Father.’ Similarly, the resurrection was an act of obedience in terms of which he took it again. That was also part of God’s commandment. It was part of the work assigned. So the form of the ‘slave’ means fundamentally his being placed under the law” (D. Macleod, “Philippians 2 and Christology,” TSF, 38 De Montfort Street, Leicester, n.d., p.14).
ii] Being a servant meant that Christ self-consciously takes up the role of the Messiah as the faithful servant of God. This is announced in the prophet Isaiah, “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my elect in whom my soul delighteth.” By Jesus’ own study of the Scriptures he learns what God expects from him and so he cheerfully takes up that lifestyle and he offers it to Jehovah, and what he is offering is precisely a life as God’s slave. He becomes a servant who needs to be kept and upheld by his heavenly Master day by day. He is obligated to obey, and so he becomes quite dependent upon his Master. A slave didn’t go out and do his own shopping, and say to himself, “I fancy some chicken today,” and then chooses his favourite wine. Masters certainly needed to keep their slaves healthy to do the work at hand, but these master must provide for their own slaves. God leads him; God commands him; God provides for him. So if Christ is to serve as the mediator between God and man, and become our prophet and priest and king, then God will meet his needs to fulfil God’s will.
iii] God provides for his Servant through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In all the dimension of Christ’s service, and in all its aspects he works with the energy God gives him, day by day – by the empowering Spirit. Through that eternal Spirit Christ offers his spotless life and death to God. When he was conceived it was by the power of the Holy Spirit. When he is announced by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world John baptizes him and the Spirit is there authenticating Christ as filled with the Spirit. He comes in the form of a dove and he settles on Jesus as one in whom there is nothing that can possibly grieve God. The Spirit is always there day by day enabling Jesus to be a servant of the Lord. The Spirit is doing the following things to enable Jesus to do this work, he illuminates his mind to understand Scripture, to know God’s will for him, to resist the temptations of Satan, not to retaliate when he is provoked by his enemies and misunderstood by his friends. By the power of the Spirit Jesus can stretch out his hand and take the cup God gives him in Gethsemane and he can drink it down. He is conscious that he is not alone, that God is with him, and God is upholding his Servant through the Spirit.
You see this in the prayer life and trust of our Lord. This Servant believes the particular promises of God’s Word. He knows that the Lord is his shepherd and he is not going to suffer want, that the Lord will prepare a table for him in the presence of his enemies. He knows that when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death he need fear no evil for God will be with him. The Spirit takes those words and really lays them on Jesus’ heart and so sustains God’s Servant so that he can cry out, “I am not alone: my Father who has sent me is with me!” Jesus depends on the power of the word and the Spirit as we all do who have to serve the Lord. How foolish for any of us to try to cope without God! If the Head himself were able to do the will of God only as he was upheld and maintained in the conflict by the indwelling Spirit then how much more careful ought we to be as we face things great or small that we be sustained through all our journey home by the Spirit of God.
iv] The fellowship we enjoy with Christ is the fellowship of service. It is not a fellowship in idleness or in high experiences. What we have in common with him is this, that we too are working for God. We are under God’s law too. Have you been with a group of Christian men who have been away for a day and a night? Perhaps they have been opening up a Christian campsite for the summer, clearing the ground, and cleaning the windows, and washing the kitchen floor, and oiling the doors, and repairing the fences, and fixing the gate. Then they’ve had some Bible readings and ministry and prayer. They are tired but they are closer than they have ever been. They eat and laugh and tease one another and they feel their brotherhood. I say, fellowship comes in service, and that is the very essence of the Christian life, because that is biblical holiness and the glory of Jesus Christ. Christians are to delight in doing the will of God.
The greatest compliment you can pay a Christian is to say of them, “There is a woman or a man who serves God.” You cannot give them higher praise. With their minds and emotions and physical resilience they are working for the Lord. That is the hallmark of real Christian living, meticulous and detailed obedience to the dominion of God day by day. ‘Christian fellowship’ is not warm feelings, it is hard work, sometimes it is absolutely heroic, usually it is secret and mundane. But it is doing God’s will, and bearing burdens, and washing feet, and going the second mile, and that was the grandeur of the life of Christ. See him in the gospels and see him by faith now in glory and he is eternally in the exact likeness of God and also in the exact likeness of a servant. But the humbling work which God gave him to do he has finished.
Every Christian here today is a servant who has been given a job to do by the Lord. It is not perhaps work we would have chosen. It is not the precise direction or course which we ourselves would have opted for, and we are not doing it perfectly, but are we running with patience this race set before us? Maybe we are going along with limited discernment, and hazy understanding, and anguished personalities, but we know that this is God’s work for us now and we are not just thinking about it and planning it, we are doing it.
So Paul is writing to the self-assertive in the church at Philippi and he is saying to them, “Please consider the position freely taken by your Lord, the position of the slave.” “He is saying, ‘That is the highest Christian category, and that is the one in which you must learn to stand, the one in which you must learn to see yourselves, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Consequently, he that is greatest among you must be the servant of all.’ It will save us from many unnecessary tensions in our own Christian callings if we can see ourselves from the outset as servants, as not only bond-slaves of our Lord Jesus Christ but as the servants also of the Christian community. We ought to remember that it wasn’t the world but the Christian community which regarded Paul and some of the other apostles as the off-scouring of all things. It is only if we start by seeing ourselves as slaves that these things can be tolerable at all” (D. Macleod, “Philippians 2 . . .”, op cit, p.15).
2. CHRIST WAS MADE IN HUMAN LIKENESS AND IN APPEARANCE AS A MAN.
“Being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,” (vv.7&8). Two different terms, human likeness and a man’s appearance, but both these words have the same basic meaning. They were virtually interchangeable in the Greek of Paul’s day, and he uses them both because he wants to underline the real manhood of Jesus. The Lord took true human nature, and he took human nature in its entirety. Probably Paul is emphasising here what Christ looked like, what people saw. “If you had seen him, Paul says, he wouldn’t have turned any heads. There was no halo, no glow. There was no shining face, I don’t suppose that he was conspicuously elegant or handsome or that he had those attributes the glossy magazines commend to us today as archetypal masculinity. He was just a man. There was nothing to betray who he was. (D. Macleod, “A Faith to Live By”, Christian Focus, Fearn, 1998, p.125). That is what Paul is implying in these words: “being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man”. There were those in the Philippian congregation who were puffed up about themselves, concerned about their image, wanting to make a good impression. They were obviously ‘Somebodies.’ But Jesus, who was really somebody, put himself in a position where nobody at all knew him, where he was misunderstood and demeaned. They thought he was a blasphemer, just a man, indistinguishable from anyone else, except in his ugly crime. He seemed to them an ordinary criminal, and that is all. So there is this striking contradiction between what he actually was – ‘being in very nature God” – and what the watching world saw.
Then these words mustn’t be misunderstood as though to suggest that Jesus had a phantom humanity. He was not God with the ‘appearance’ of being human. You had something like that in the theophanies of the Old Testament when God manifested himself temporarily in the form of a man, so that men and women thought they were speaking to warriors or travellers. Those were just temporary assumptions of human nature by the Lord. Jesus was so longing to become man for our redemption and he has some foretaste of being stared at and questioned, and he even meets violence during the days of Lot, Abraham and Joshua. But on none of those occasions was there incarnation.
How different was the coming of God the Son “being made in human likeness, and being found in fashion as a man.” The apostle John says that the person who denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. In other words the Bible is obsessed with the material world, with earth and air and water, with human bodies – not just with our souls. That is what you meet in the incarnation. Jesus is conceived by Mary, carried in her womb for the normal period of embryonic development. He emerges from her womb as a baby. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity! The apostle John reflects on it in these familiar words at the beginning of his first letter: “That which . . . we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life” (I Jn. 1:1&2). It is that kind of incarnation, with a head of hair that a woman could anoint with oil, and feet that she could wet with her tears – feet you could drive a nail into. It was a warm, physical, material body that our Lord had. There was hunger, thirst, desire, weariness, and pain that neither computers, robots nor ghosts experience. Jesus’ physique and his physiology was similar in every respect to our own. Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He could have donated his blood, or bone marrow, or one of his kidneys to a suitable sibling. When a man thrust a spear into his side he didn’t explode or go ‘pop!’ because he was nothing but an appearance, a skin of manhood. No, water as well as blood came out from within him.
But there is another danger, and that is that we are not committed to the genuiness of his human psychology. Some people have denied the entirety and totality and fulness of Jesus’ human nature. They say, “Of course, as far as his body goes, that was real and genuine, but it was not perfect because all the parts were not there. All the parts of a human body are indeed there, the limbs, the brain and the other internal organs. We don’t deny that. But Jesus didn’t have a human soul or a human spirit. His body was inhabited by the Word of God.” That is what some have said, that the eternal Word who was with God and who was God became like a creature of fantasy, an alien who inhabits and takes over a human body, the body of the man Jesus. The man who taught that, and who died around 390, was called Apollinarius. Now the ancient church heard that and it said, No! Jesus’ humanity was perfect and entire. There was nothing lacking in the humanness of Jesus Christ. Nothing that was human was alien to him, and all that was human was found in him in perfect proportion and balance: human physique, human physiology. “There is human mind, there are human emotions, there are human affections, there is human volitional process. He thinks humanly. He gathers information. He organises it. He assimilates. He memorises it. He recalls it. He makes inferences from it in a perfectly human way . . .”
“Similarly there is the patent biblical emphasis on the emotional life of our Lord. There is the fear: ‘He began to be sore amazed’. There is the sorrow. There is the weeping. There is the joy. There is the entering into patent friendships on the human level. There is full human emotional life . . . and if his humanity is full and true and perfect, then there must also be human decision-making.” (D Macleod, “Philippians 2 …” op cit, p.15). Now God in heaven is the ever-blessed God. He knows nothing of heaviness and fear and sorrow, certainly a sorrow unto death. When Christ hung upon the cross God remained the ever-blessed God. He knows no inward emotional disturbance. He never loses his composure. He never gets agitated. He never experiences passive suffering in which he is the victim. But the Son of God takes a human body and a human psychology, and this is the mega-truth that Paul is repeating here: “being made in human likeness. And being found in fashion as a man,” (vv. 7 & 8).
You say, “What is the relevance of all this to me?” I say, much in every way. Think of your tropical fish. Your house passes through unspeakable anguish, but they swim round and round their tank unaffected and uncomprehending. Your Saviour in heaven is not like that. He can be touched by your feeling of weakness, of not being able to cope, of your not being able to face what the future seems to be delivering to you. Jesus himself has been there and his memory of it is as vivid this moment as when he was experiencing it two thousand years ago. No memory cells have died. A Scottish teenager aged 18 named Michael Bruce wrote of our great high priest (and Bruce was to live for just three more years):
“Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
A fellow-feeling of our pains;
And still remembers, in the skies,
His tears, and agonies, and cries.
“In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of Sorrows had a part;
He sympathises with our grief
And to the sufferer sends relief.” (Michael Bruce, alt. 1746-67).
The Lord Jesus has known the sorrows and sadnesses of this life. He has known the treachery of a friend. He has known the pain of bereavement. He has known misunderstanding, and rejection, and false accusations. He has known terrible physical pain and unimaginable psychological and spiritual agonies. So certainly he can feel for us. He knows what you are going through. What marvellous compassion he has gained by being made in human likeness. He is able to save to the uttermost those that come to God by him because he ever lives to make intercession for them, and his praying is an informed praying, full of pathos. I do not say that it is characterised today by strong crying and tears. But from the right hand of the majesty on high he can contemplate the day-to-day anguish of his church, and he says, “I’ve been there. I’ve been in their nature, with their frailty, with their sensitivity, and without any resources but those which they too know, the promises of my Father to strengthen, and the Holy Spirit to uphold.”
So what Paul is teaching us here is that when the Son of God entered our world he chose a very deliberate manner in which to veil his Godhead. Of course absolute divinity was there all along. The Son of God cannot cease to be God, and at times the veil slipped as it did on the Mount of Transfiguration. For a moment transcendent majesty broke through, but then that glimpse had disappeared. The real glory of the incarnation is not God divesting himself of God – impossible – but God veiling his Godhead. What was that veil? It was what Paul speaks of here, the very nature of a servant. It was the likeness of sinful flesh. That is what the shepherds saw in the manger – a baby, and that is all they saw. They observed only the ordinariness of the whole scene. Remember, that is not what the observers of the theophanies in the Old Testament saw. Joshua saw before Jericho an awesome Warrior who would terrify any enemy. A vulnerable human being is not what the people saw on Sinai, nor is it what the Babylonians saw of the fourth man walking with the three believers in the burning fiery furnace. That is not what Isaiah saw high and lifted up in the Temple. He saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filling the temple. That is not what every eye will see when Christ returns and all his holy angels with him. Those appearances were and will be of marvellously majestic beings from heaven itself that cause those who seem there fear. But when Jesus came to earth two thousand years ago all that was laid aside, the divine paraphernalia, and all the accoutrements of deity, and all its heavenly insignia, all such were left at the side of the throne when Jesus came to Bethlehem and Nazareth and Golgotha. “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter? Don’t we know his parents? Don’t we know his brothers?” the people said. He was so obviously a man. So that is the second thing we are told here, that the Son of God came in human likeness and in appearance as a man.
3. CHRIST HUMBLED HIMSELF EVEN TO DEATH ON A CROSS.
“He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (v.8). God had made himself nothing. That was something extraordinary! But there was more. He was made in human likeness. God the Son’s diapers being changed and his being washed and fed by a young mother Mary! God in a stable! But there is more. He took the very nature of a servant. God washing feet! But there was more. “What did the angels think of it all? One day they blinked in astonishment as they saw their great Creator in a manger in Bethlehem. They must have found the spectacle incomprehensible. Then as the days and years moved on they saw a drama unfold which must have overloaded every circuit in their computers. One day word came that their Lord was in Gethsemane, and one of them had been sent to strengthen him. Hours later there came even more astonishing news: he was bleeding on the cross of Calvary. That, surely, was the bottom: the very worst! But no! The next thing was, the Father had forsaken him! The God whose whole impulse it was to wash away the tears from the eyes of his people not washing away the tears of his own Son! That’s how it was from beginning to end of the earthly life: down! The tremendous step from throne to stable, and then the incredible journey from the stable to the cross and beyond it the journey on the cross itself from the immolation to the dereliction. The angels must have been saying, ‘Will this never end? How low is he going to go? How low does he have to go?” (D.Macleod, “A Faith to Live By,” Christian Focus, Fearn, 1998, pp. 125&126). See the structure in which Paul sets it. Three things:
i] “He humbled himself,” says Paul. He quite deliberately takes each step by himself. In other words, there was not just a single plinth and then it was one step down from the throne to our redemption. No! There was a Jacob’s ladder that went down and down, and on each step were carved such words as these: conception, birth, stable, infantile weakness, refugee in Egypt, carpenter’s shop, baptism, wilderness temptations, Satan, constant travel, endless teaching, exhausting healings, betrayal, Gethsemane, flogging, crucifixion, dereliction, abandonment, death, burial. Christ goes down and down. He plumbs the depths of the lake of fire when he enters into the cosmic incinerator of sin called Golgotha. And, finally, he is dead. It is not that he dies, but that he in whom was life and that life was the light of men, is now . . . dead!
So the Lord does not choose the humiliation as one block. It is not one great identifiable mass of humiliation. It lasts for over thirty years. Every day from Bethlehem to the tomb he is making the humble choice. Of course he does it in submission to God’s directives, and he does it by the strength of the Spirit, but he does it! He chooses to go down and down. It is not that he was humbled but that he humbles himself. Down into the abyss he goes, further and further into the darkness. Every day there are fierce temptations to abandon this path: “Tell those stones to become bread.” Even on Golgotha they don’t cease: “Come down from the cross! End the enfleshment! Abdicate from the position of being servant!” But he makes the choice of obeying God each day, going another step down, and another step. He was not standing on a down escalator and being taken there. Moment by moment he is selecting the shame and he’s choosing the weariness and he is taking the Father’s commandment to lay down his life. At times he is very near the edge of the step, and there’s a fearful precipice on that side. He’s teetering on the brink of danger. He feels the horror of it, but he doesn’t fall over. One failure, for one moment in his human endurance would have achieved the universal and eternal triumph of wickedness. An old Scottish preacher called James McLagan said that that would have done what is unimaginable, and almost too fearful to name, the defeat of his Father’s counsel, and the failure of his Father’s truth, and the desecration of his Father’s Godhead. But Christ Jesus never falls, not one day, all the way to Golgotha where he finally immolates himself. He binds himself to the horns of that altar. He has chosen the cup and there he drinks it. He humbled himself – constantly.
ii] Then Paul says, “he became obedient to death.” Obedience is the key. His sufferings were not fate. It was not that some great whirling wheel came crashing into his life irresistibly and mangling him, and he was helpless before it. It was no calamity. It was not the accident of suffering. It was obedience to God appointing him to become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. So it was obedience to all the implications of that – arrest, trial, scourging, mockery, unbearable pain. God made him to be sin who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, and we are saying that at every stage the Son was obedient. The first Adam couldn’t even obey the simple command not to take a fruit from one tree in paradise. The last Adam displayed a range of costly obediences year after year in the wilderness of this world. By the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, and so by the obedience of one man many were made righteousness. From Bethlehem to Golgotha it was all the time the obedience of the God-man. That is vicarious obedience, and that is the believing sinner’s righteousness. We are clothed with all the merit, and all the eloquence, and all the discernment of the unfaltering obedience of the Son of God as he progresses from the cradle to the cross. There is no moment in that whole experience when he is not the Redeemer. There was no day in that full life when he was not acting in a substitutionary capacity. Each moment of it had the glory of grace and truth, the glory of that staggering obedience of the incarnate God. That is what is imputed to us so that we are clothed with his merit and righteousness.
iii] “He became obedient to death – even the death of the cross!” Of course there is death and death. There is what the book of Revelation calls the second death, but there is a death for the Christian that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is the anticipation of a death which means being absent from the body and present with the Lord. That death is sleep in Jesus. That death is without a sting, a death without anathema and with no condemnation. But that is not the death referred to here. This is the cursed death, the second death. He who knew no sin dies as one to whom guilt and shame have been given. He dies paying the wages of sin. He dies as one made sin who is not spared. He dies confronted with God’s absolute integrity confronting him and there is no mitigation. God doesn’t say, “How obedient he’s been, so I must spare him.” God did not spare him. All that our sin deserves goes over his soul in this death. All consciousness of the divine favour is withdrawn from him.
Consider the one who is dying there. “The subject of this dying – the One who dies – is God the Son. He obeys unto death. In his original form he was immune to death, but he deliberately assumed a form that was mortal. He went towards death, choosing it and tasting it, deciding not to be its master but its victim, and accepting a destiny according to which it would be a sin for him not to die. The Son of Man must suffer. Death was obedience; not dying would be disobedience. Besides, it is death in its most aggravated form, not merely because the cross involved indescribable physical pain, but because in his case it was the occasion, the instrument and the symbol of the curse due to sin. He experienced death unmitigated and unqualified: death with the sting; a death without light, comfort and encouragement. The long, long journey from Caesarea Philippi to Calvary was a journey into a black hole involving not only physical and emotional pain but a spiritual desertion beyond our imagining. In his agony, he would cry and not be heard. He would lose all sense of his divine sonship. He would lose all sense of his father’s love. Into that tiny space (his body, outside Jerusalem) and into that fraction of time (the ninth hour, on Good Friday) God gathered the sin of the world; and there and then, in the flesh of his own Son, he condemned it (Romans 8:3). On that cross, at its darkest point, the Son knew himself only as sin and his Father only as its avenger. Here was a singularity. The Logos, the ground of all law, became lawlessness, speechless in a darkness beyond reason. He so renounced his rights that he died; and he so made himself nothing that he died that death. He did not shrink from the connection with flesh. When a second great step was called for, he shuddered, yet resolutely accepted the connection with death. He became flesh, then went deeper, tasting death. (Donald Macleod, “The Person of Christ,” IVP, Leicester, 1998, pp. 216&217)
That is how Jesus died, as an abhorrent thing, under the curse of God. It began with the annunciation; “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God, Emmanuel.” It ended with the holy thing forsaken. That is Luther’s great paradox, God forsaken by God. We are back to the veiling of God. “There was no place in the whole world on the morning of the crucifixion which the human mind might have thought less likely to be the locus of the concentrated presence of our Redeeming God than the place called Golgotha.” (Donald Macleod) Men might have said the evening before as they looked into the night sky, “The heavens declare the glory of God. How great Thou art!” But the last thing that Calvary was saying to these men and the last impression it was conveying was, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ “Whatever the cross of Christ looked like it did not look like the place from which emanated the almighty love of God.” (D. Macleod, “Christology . . . “, op cit, p.17). All the trappings of divine glory were hidden there as the one who is very nature God and who was made in human likeness hung on the cross. There was nothing that looked less like God. His disciples did not recognise him. Their faith and hope were gone: “We had thought that this would have been the glorious one who would have redeemed Israel . . .” but after witnessing that death, how could it be?
It was Christ’s resurrection that transformed the cross making it a message of sin removed and sinners forgiven. He had died there bearing our sin in his human body, enduring sorrow in his human soul and redeeming the world with his human blood. This is the same living Saviour, present with us today, who says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” On the basis of what he has done he can cope should all the world come to him. So he can surely help you when you come to him.
This Christ is the role model for every Christian. If you are in him you must be like him – that is Paul’s exhortation. This is one who turned his back voluntarily and deliberately on all that hinted at the breaking forth of the eternal glories of God. So I dare not insist on my rights because he refused to. I cannot refuse to be a servant among my brothers and sisters because he was not. I cannot forego humiliation and loss because he did not. “He recognized no limit to the extent to which his obedience to God in self-humbling must go. Whatever he found in himself to be expendable, he spent. While anything that was left which could be poured forth, he poured it forth. Nothing was too small to give, or too great. This is the mind and the life which is commended to us by the example of Christ” (J. A. Motyer, “The Richness of Christ,” IVP, London, 1966, p.85).
So we are of the same mind, having the same love. We refuse to look to our own interests, but we are very concerned for the interests of others. Costly love. Hurting love. Golgotha love. Servant love. The world is to see that love in the Christian community, and that is to make its own impact on them.
6 October 2002 GEOFF THOMAS