IMPORTANT: Please click here and read a brief section of the Westminster Confession before continuing. What you are about to read is a complex section of Christian theology known as the Hypostatic Union. It is important to begin any discussion of this kind on solid ground.
Most people do not take the time to contemplate the extent to which Jesus humbled Himself. Jesus Christ, fully and eternally God, became from top to bottom, through and through, a bona fide human being. His divinity does not diminish whatsoever in the process.
God dwelt among us.
There is arguably no other occasion in history that compares to this achievement, apart from the death and resurrection of the Lord.
The next time you are reading the book of Philippians, do not pass over these words too quickly:
Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross [i].
Meditate upon these words for a day or two as you go about your daily business. Such an undertaking will stir your heart and mind in a way you have never experienced before. The overused expressions of our times –Awestruck, mesmerized, enthralled – are words too powerless and are not sufficient to describe the wonder of it all. No superlative in the English language can suitably modify a description of the incarnation of Lord Jesus Christ, the Man without sin.
In a way that cannot be fully fathomed by the human mind, the incarnation gave the eternal and infinitely all-wise Son of God the experiential acquisition of knowledge about the human condition. Christ “tasted” suffering, and by doing so He can sympathize deeply with His followers’ weaknesses and temptations [ii].
Throughout the thirty-plus years of earthly ministry, the Lord subjected Himself to hunger, thirst, temptation of every kind, the worst sorrows, utter rejection, extreme loneliness, intense suffering, lack of knowledge, a mortifying death and every other disparaging human experience we ourselves have ever known. Yet the Lord did not sin.
The eternal Son of God entered into the Christian experience not in some hypothetical way, but genuinely and actually. In every sense of the meaning we speak of ourselves living life, Jesus lived. This includes human limitations without any deficiency of His deity at any time or any place.
Attacks by subchristian cults have rightly caused defenders of the faith to underscore Christ’s divinity. But the grandeur of His deity should not be overstressed to obscure His real humanity. Jesus was subject to the same laws of human development we are, and also to the same needs and sufferings [iii]. Scripture has provided considerable detail that the ordinary experiences of human life with which we are acquainted were those He Himself knew [iv].
Jesus responded to His various misfortunes in meekness and submissiveness [v] , self-denial [vi], perseverance [vii], faith [viii]. The hotter the conflict grew at His trial, the more inward submission He manifested [ix].
Why would the Lion of Judah stoop to this?
It was only by entering into the miseries of men and our temptations and our sufferings that Jesus could become a truly sympathetic High Priest.
Jesus chose to live out all the great lessons of human life, even mandating that He undergo an education, engaging in every step we ourselves take. He did this without sin.
For the first thirty years of His life Jesus lived a human life that was so ordinary that the people of Nazareth who knew Him best were surprised that He could teach with authority and perform miracles [x]. Do not suppose Jesus was Superhuman. He was, and still is, as human as we are, yet without sin. Even those who lived and worked with Him for thirty years, even his brothers who grew up in His own household, did not realize that He was anything more than another very good human being [xi]. Apparently they had no idea that He was God in the flesh.
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot. And like a root out of parched ground. He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him [xii].
When the book of Hebrews says He was “made perfect,” it means Jesus was not “made perfect” in the sense of having His nature improved or that His nature changed in any way; rather, in His sufferings Christ’s Humanness was lived out in a perfect way. Jesus’s life was a complete humanness that in no way was different than our own, with the exception that He did not sin. Being “made perfect” is equivalent to “having completed” all that was required of Him to become our great High Priest, the mediator between God and man.
By suffering, He came to the aid of His people by becoming the author of a great and eternal salvation. By suffering, He was consecrated to His office as the Great High Priest, set apart by His own blood instead of the blood of animals [xiii]. By suffering, He consummated His priestly office making a final settlement for His people’s sins. In this sense He is said to be “made perfect,” that is to say He provided an absolute aversion to the wrath of God that is focused upon sinners.
Christ, the eternal Son of God, sought relief from the Father and was indeed heard by Him; yet He endured an appalling death that He might be taught to obey. Christ’s active obedience ought to motivate Christians to pray the same way: that our will be the same as our Father’s in heaven.
All this was done for the church’s benefit, that we would be able to learn the same things. Christ would demonstrate to us examples of subjection even to death itself. By His death Christ fully learned by real world experience what it was to obey God. He was led in a special way to deny Himself, renouncing His own resolve. “Not My will,” Jesus said, “but as the Father wills” [xiv].
Jesus Christ is, has been, and always will be the unique eternal Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father. One would assume this title and position might have exempted Him from any suffering, but it did not. The high dignity of His office did not exempt Him from the humiliation which our salvation required.
Let none of us who are His children by adoption [xv] expect to be off the hook from suffering either. Christians are summoned by God to suffer, and by Jesus’s example we will be taught to endure any hardships that pass our way. At this moment, while time is on our side, we should prepare ourselves for the tumultuous times that are to come so that when we encounter these many and diverse calamities we will be able to render obedience to God [xvi]. Do not delay! Prepare this very moment to submit to any sufferings now in the same way an athlete prepares for a race.
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps[xvii]
The Christian’s profession of faith is an invitation for suffering:
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake [xviii].
When we do suffer, we should be ready to explain the motivation and the reason we endure it [xix]. This is especially true whenever the consequence of our own evils press upon us. The Son of God labored under the same lessons, although He suffered for others’ sins and none of His own. Jesus is without sin.
We are reminded that deliverance from evil and disaster can be found from no other person or place but from God alone, and only in His perfect timing. What better guidance can we have in our sufferings than the example of Christ? If we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us in any practical way, we must imitate Him; indeed, He has commanded it [xx].
Christians press on! Endurance of suffering carries with it a great reward:
Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets [xxi].
[i] Philippians 2:6-8
[ii] Hebrews 4:15
[iii] Luke 2:40, 52; Hebrews 2:10, 18
[iv] Matthew 4:2; 8:24; 9:36; Mark 3:5; Luke 22:44; John 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28, 30
[v] Matthew 11:29
[vi] Romans 15:3
[vii] Revelation 1:9
[viii] Hebrews 2:13
[ix] Isaiah 5:6-7; 53:7; Matthew 27:14
[x] Mark 13:55; Matthew 13:56
[xi] John 7:5
[xii] Isaiah 53:2
[xiii] Hebrews 8-9
[xiv] Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 6:38
[xv] Ephesians 1:5
[xvi] 1 Peter 2:21
[xvii] 1 Peter 2:21
[xviii] Philippians 1:29
[xix] 1 Peter 3:15
[xx] Mark 8:34; Matthew 10:38; Luke 9:23
[xxi] Luke 6:23