“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Obedient He became!
Obedient unto death, even the death of the cross! That He became obedient implies that He was subject to command. The term “obedient” comes from a word which means literally: to give ear, to heed, and thus, to obey. But this presupposes that that which is heeded and obeyed is a command which insists on obedience.
Of this obedience to command the Saviour was always deeply conscious. As we have already observed, at the age of twelve He MUST be about His Father’s business. When He is thirty and ready to begin His public ministry, He MUST go to the Jordan and the baptism of John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled. When His hour is come that His chief mediatorial work must be accomplished, He MUST go to Gethsemane where He prays that He may perform the will of God faithfully unto the end. And when He walks the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows, to the hill of the skull and His death on the accursed tree, we see the completed act.
O, indeed, He was under commandment!
In the volume of the book it was written of Him that He should come to do all the Father’s will. For His Father’s business He had been set apart in the counsel of peace. For this business He was sent into the world to assume our nature, in order that in that nature as the last Adam He may perform the will of God perfectly unto the end. That He was precisely under the commandment to lay down His life for His sheep, and that He was fully conscious of such a command, He Himself declared when He said: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down; and I, have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
What then precisely was the commandment?
That He should lay down His life. Or, according to our text, that He humble Himself unto death.
Attention should be given to that expression: “UNTO death.” Death is the extreme limit unto which He must be obedient. It would not be sufficient that He express His mere willingness to die; but He must go all the way, not shrinking even from death. He must be obedient until death overtakes Him, even the death of the cross.
Humbled unto death!
Into the state of humiliation He entered when He, Who is in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation, emptied Himself, and took on Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men. His humiliation began already when the Son of God assumed the human nature in His lowly birth.
That He emptied Himself, however, cannot mean, as it is maintained by some, that He temporarily ceased to be divine and became only human. This would deny the truth that the divine nature is unchangeable, as well as the truth that the Son of God remains in the form of God during His stay upon earth. Though it is true that this form of God is hidden behind the veil of His flesh, Scripture shows how He allowed His divinity to shine through this veil in the wonders He performed, which divinity is acclaimed by those who saw Him, so that they were pressed to exclaim: “My Lord and my God!”
Nor can we agree with those who maintain that the assumption of the human nature was in itself humiliation for the Son of God. Those who hold this view lose sight of the fact that the Saviour now in the state of exaltation possesses the same human nature and this can hardly be said to be humiliation.
Nay, rather, the emptying of Himself and the humiliation He endured at His birth is to be seen in the facts that He, the Lord of heaven and as the Head and Mediator of His people, assumed their position under the law and judgment of God. Through the incarnation the Son of God was born under the law. Through the incarnation He, Who is Lord, became servant. Through the incarnation He entered our state of guilt and condemnation where it was possible for all the vials of God’s holy wrath to be poured out over His sacred head in our stead. In the incarnation He assumed the human nature, not as Adam possessed it in the state of righteousness before the fall, but after the fall—namely, a weakened human nature. This was the beginning of His humiliation.
Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself!
Indeed, He was in a position to become very great! Was He not in the form of God while He was also in the form of a servant? Was He not in a position to make for Himself a name? Did He not have power to call down the angels of heaven to fight for Him and through them to overcome all His enemies? And by His power to perform miracles—to give sight to the blind, to cleanse disease, to, raise the dead, to feed the multitude, to cast out devils—could He not have taken over the entire world and brought all nations to His feet? Was He not in the position, like the first Adam, to conceive the thought that He would like to be equal with God?
But never did this thought arise in His soul! Never did He entertain the idea of being equal with God, but always only His humble servant. Though at times He allowed flashes of His divinity to be seen in the wonders He performed, and even in the garden of Gethsemane He allowed that divinity to pierce through His humanity so that His enemies fell to ground and became like dead men, nevertheless, He did not use these powers to enhance His stature; but appearing in the fashion of a man, He humbled Himself. He emptied Himself of all power, honor, and glory, which He had and could have increased, and humbled Himself unto death—even the death of the cross.
Death of the accursed!
Such it was from the point of view of the world which was instrumental in His death.
Indeed, He was despised and rejected of men! That He was so treated by men, implied, in the first place, that He was well-known by them. He did not dwell on the periphery of the world and in obscurity, but in the center, where all the world could and did observe Him. This implies, in the second place, that in a certain sense He appeared unto them with a definite claim. He was rejected and despised not for what He had done, but for who He was and claimed to be—because He said He was the Christ, the Son of God. And the whole world rejected Him—even His own. For when He came to His own they received Him not. No man would have anything to do with Him. He was ruthlessly cast out.
The world reckons Him with the transgressors. Not simply is that world satisfied to do away with Him, so that He no longer crosses their pathway; but that world was determined to heap upon Him all the disgrace they were capable of demonstrating. He must die the death of the cross as an accursed thing. But that was not all.
From the point of view of God He was also judged worthy of death: The cross was no accident—it was foreordained. God reckoned Him among the transgressors. Christ was delivered to the death of the cross not only by wicked men, but by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.
The cross is symbol of the curse. For “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” And death on the cross is an accursed death. When God, therefore, assigned His Son; found in fashion as a man, to that cross, He made Him to become the bearer of the curse—the curse due to us. “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” This is God’s sentence upon sinners, and this sentence He pronounced over Christ.
There He hanged, as it were, between earth and heaven. Cast out of the earth, and not wanted by heaven. O, the ignominy and shame that was heaped upon His sacred head! In our stead He willingly subjected Himself, humbled Himself to the extremity of the cross-death, the accursed death. And God was pleased to abandon His Son so that He feels this forsakenness in His own soul, and the cry is pressed out of Him: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?? This was the death of the cross. Not, first of all, that physical death which He also endured? but more particularly death in its real essence—to be separated from God. That was the awful extremity unto which He was humbled. In the humiliation that was heaped upon Him by the world and in the humiliation imposed upon Him by God, He goes as the Lamb to the slaughter, and He opened not His mouth.
But then we have not fully explained the humiliation.
He humbled Himself?
As the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, this was His fashion, His outward appearance; His humiliation was not only thrust upon Him by the world and by His God, but in the fashion of a man He assumed the position of a servant and as obedient servant He humbled Himself. Subjectively He made it His business not to exalt Himself, but the very opposite—to walk the way of humiliation unto its extremity—death.
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself . . . This commandment have I received of my Father.”
How often men planned and even attempted to take His life! Their plans and their endeavor always failed; because His hour was not yet come, and because, not they might take it from Him, but He must lay it down of Himself. Not as a suicide, who has no other end in view than to express his dissatisfaction with life and the desire to bring it to a disastrous end. Not so did He lay down His life. But there was purpose in His death, in the laying down of His life.
He must die for the satisfaction of the sin and guilt of His people. His life’s blood He must pour out to pay the penalty of their guilt. Only so could they have their debt blotted out before God’s tribunal. Moreover, He must die in such a way and with such a death that has so much value that He may live again—that He may take up that life again. This power, as obedient servant He possessed and also displayed. Unless His obedience unto death was crowned with resurrection life it would avail nothing in removing the guilt of His people, in obtaining forgiveness and justification for them. This resurrection was His proof of perfect obedience, and our proof of our perfect justification.
Thanks be unto God for such an obedient Saviour!
Unto all eternity let the redeemed church say: Amen!