There and Back Again: The Savior’s Journey | Philippians 2:5-11
Andy Lindgren | March 23, 2019
Well, good morning! Brian is sharing the wealth today with some other believers, so would appreciate your continued prayers for him. Thank you for letting him go and do that every now and then; it’s a blessing to others. Would you join me in prayer?
Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day, Lord. I ask now that the words of my mouth in the coming moments and the meditations of all of our hearts would be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. In the name of Christ we ask these things, and for his sake, Amen.
One day in the early 1930s, a professor was marking school certificate papers, and, it being a tedious task, in the midst of doing so he found a blank piece of paper, and on that blank piece of paper he wrote this sentence, “In a whole in a ground there lived a hobbit.”
We have a picture of that professor; that, of course, was J.R.R. Tolkien, who went on to write the children’s story The Hobbit, and then after that the more elaborate and more widely known The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was subtitled There and Back Again, and it tells the story of a halfling named Bilbo who gets caught up into a journey, into an adventure, quite against his will. He has this adventure and he returns home changed, he returns home different. The ramifications from his journey factored into the story of The Lord of the Rings, with his nephew Frodo, that would end up leaving all of the world of Middle Earth changed forever.
This morning we’re going to be looking at a journey that is not a fantasy, that is not a work of literature, but that actually happened. But, unlike Bilbo’s journey, every step of this journey was carefully planned, and every dangerous obstacle was fully known to the one who set out from his familiar dwelling in order to accomplish his mission.
We have a summation of this journey in an excerpt of Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Philippians 2:5-11. Let’s read that text.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every 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.”
This is God’s word.
Now, this passage of Scripture, some scholars have debated if this was actually a preexisting Christian hymn that Paul was quoting. Some say that he wrote it at that moment, while he was writing the letter itself; others say maybe most of it was a hymn, and he added it. We’re not exactly sure, we don’t know for certain, but whatever it’s literary origin, this is a wonderful summation of the journey of Christ in miniature.
We’re going to look at the three major stages of the journey this morning; we’re going to be looking at:
I. His Journey to the Womb (vv. 5-7)
II. His Journey to the Cross (v. 8)
III. His Journey to the Throne (vv. 9-11)
I. His Journey to the Womb
So we’ll start with looking at his journey to the womb.
On the darkest night of his journey, when he was standing at the base of his own Mount Doom, so to speak, Jesus prayed, and a section of his prayer gives us a glimpse into the origin of his journey. He prayed in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed.”
The Scriptures confront us with this mysterious truth that, although there is only one God, this one God eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; however, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. These three persons share the same divine nature but are different in role and relationship. The theologians would say this is “unity without uniformity.” It’s diversity, but without division.
Scripture also tells us that each Person of the Trinity delights in the other Persons of the Trinity. We see this early on in Jesus’s journey, in the gospel of Mark, when Mark writes, “And when he came up out of the water - ” this is talking about the baptism of Jesus - “When he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” So the Holy Spirit descends on the Son in approval, and then the Father speaks of his pleasure in the Son.
The Scriptures tell us this one God in three Persons created people in his own image to worship him and to enjoy him, but humankind, created in the Triune God’s image, rebelled against him, sinned against him, and this resulted in the Father’s sending the Son from his rightful place to save a remnant for his glory.
Our text tells us that Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, though he was equal with God, he chose to empty himself. Hebrews 10:5-7 says, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
Then in John 6:38 Jesus describes his journey this way, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
So Jesus was sent, but he was not sent forcefully. He didn’t fight it. He voluntarily went, and he headed for a body that was prepared for him. His volition showed that he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Even though the Son lacked nothing and rightly deserved his status, he chose to trade his riches for poverty, as the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 8:9.
The meaning of the word translated “grasp” gives the idea of something already possessed, but not exploited for personal gain.
The theologian Sinclair Ferguson points out that this is exactly the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the garden. Adam and Eve, the first two image-bearers, grasped for something that wasn’t rightfully theirs when they believed the lie of the serpent, who said that they would be like God if they disobeyed. Even though they were lovingly created as creatures who bore the very image of God and were capable of conscious worship of him, they traded it in an attempt to grab equality that wasn’t theirs, that didn’t belong to them, as have each one of us.
This, of course, usurped God’s perfect order, brought brokenness and sin and death into his wonderful universe. So God did something about it: Jesus began his descent.
We have a little map here I want to take a look at that comes from the ESV Study Bible. As you can see, preincarnate glory, that’s where Christ started, but then he begins what theologians would call his humiliation. That’s not quite the same way we would use that word; it doesn’t necessarily mean extreme embarrassment; it means his self-humbling. He humbled himself, so he began his descent, and the first stop on that was the incarnation.
The text tells us that Jesus emptied himself in a very specific way; it was by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (verse 6). Now, Christians spent centuries searching the Scriptures in an attempt to formulate an accurate summary of the person of Christ. What does this mean that he’s truly God and truly man?
This word “taking” was important. It was an important part of that process. It was concluded that Jesus didn’t lose any of his divine attributes when he became human, but he added human nature to his divine nature. So he was still one person, the same eternal Son, but now he has two natures. But these two natures were not mixed together into a new hybrid nature; they are two natures distinct, however, two natures united in one person.
Now, it’s not two people, either. He’s still one person. It’s one person with two natures, one nature truly God, 100 per cent, all the way; and the other nature truly man, 100 per cent, all the way.
The early church fathers summed it up well by saying, “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” He assumed human nature, as they put it. He took it on. He added it to himself, but remained in the form of God, remained equal with God, even while he took the form of a servant by being born in the likeness of men.
So he comes, the Son arrives. An angel tells Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Separately, an angel tells Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” A holy child, a conception of the Holy Spirit, Emmanuel, God with us.
I’d like you to do something for a moment. Look at your copy of Scripture, whether it’s on your phone or you have a physical copy, and I want you to go to the period at the end of verse 7 and put your finger there and look at it. The period at the end of verse 7. All of us began our existence smaller than that dot on the page. Human existence is a wonderful and mysterious thing. We don’t exist, and then all of a sudden we begin to exist, smaller than the human eye can see! We grow larger and we develop into these complex beings with intelligence and thought and emotions and will that will go on to last forever, Scriptures tell us, in one place or another.
When Jesus assumed human nature, he entered that journey at the same place where we start, smaller than the human eye can see, smaller than the period at the end of verse 7, with a body knit together in a mother’s womb, with lungs that breathed air for the first time. His human likeness was like ours in every way, with one important difference: he was without sin.
This is why Jesus couldn’t be biologically conceived of a man. The succession of sin nature that had been passed on from Adam to every generation since had to be interrupted in order to create a sinless human nature. This is why the conception was of the Holy Spirit.
II. His Journey to the Cross
Now we come to the next stage, the next direction the journey takes, which is to the cross. He was born in Bethlehem, but the human form he took didn’t reflect his divine status. He was born in lowly conditions.
As John Owen said (he gave us this illustration), “Just as an eclipse temporarily covers the light of the sun, so Jesus allowed his human nature to temporarily eclipse the shining brilliance of his divine nature.” He humbled himself.
This is clear, by the way, from the context of the gospels, where everyone just takes it for granted that Jesus is just as human as they are, although human in some unique way, which was either demon possession or prophet of God, depending on who you asked. But still they thought, “We’re just talking about a normal man here.” That’s how human he was. His own brothers, that lived in the same house with him, that grew up with him, didn’t even believe in his claims.
So when God humbled himself to save us and to glorify himself, this humility meant taking a human form, but why did it necessarily have to go that direction? Well, one of those reasons was he had to live an obedient life on our behalf. Verse 8 continues to tell us that he humbled himself by becoming obedient. When Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:16, John the Baptist tried to stop him. He said, “This is backwards. You should be baptizing me. This is wrong.” But Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
That’s why the Holy Spirit didn’t just create Jesus’s body as a fully formed 33-year-old and drop him down on earth the day before he had to go to the cross. God required a lifetime of obedience that we weren’t able to fulfill. We sons of Adam and daughters of Eve needed to not only be forgiven of our rebellion, but we also needed someone to obey in our stead, to walk the path of obedience that we didn’t, and to give us the power to live an obedient life ourselves.
As Paul said in Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteousness.”
Speaking of the glory of the obedience of Christ, John Owen said, “The glory of this obedience ariseth principally from the consideration of person who thus yielded it unto God. This was no other but the Son of God made man, God and man in one person. He who was in heaven, above all, Lord of all, at the same time lived in the world in a condition of no reputation and a course of the strictest obedience under the whole law of God. He unto whom prayer was made prayed himself, night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all the creatures worshipped was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God. He who was over the house diligently observed the meanest office of the house. He that made all men, in whose hand they are all as clay in the hand of the potter, observed amongst them the strictest rules of justice in giving unto everyone his due, and of charity in giving good things that were not deserved. This is that which renders the obedience of Christ and the discharge of his office both mysterious and glorious.”
Another reason why he had to be God in human form is that the same human nature which transgressed God’s law had to pay for those sins. If he wasn’t truly man, 100 per cent, all the way, he wouldn’t have been able to pay for our sins. That’s why an angel couldn’t offer payment for the sins of humanity, because an angel doesn’t possess a human nature. Also, the same human nature which was broken needed restoration. He could only heal what he himself was, which is why he not only had a human body but a human mind and soul and emotions, as well.
One of the early heresies was that all Jesus had was a physical human body, and that was it, he didn’t have anything else of a human nature. But if that’s true we’re in trouble, because we have a psyche that’s broken, we have a mind that needs repairing, we have emotions that need repairing. As one of the early fathers put it, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed, but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.”
We see that Jesus not only lived an obedient life on our behalf, but he was also obedient to death. Jesus faced death from the very beginning. Before he could speak, his parents were forced to become refugees as they journeyed with him to Egypt to escape the murderous impulses of an evil king. There were plots against Jesus’s life during his three years of public ministry. There were even attempts on his life, physical attempts on his life, before he got to the cross. At one point, his own townspeople tried to force him off of a cliff, in Luke 4. At another point he avoided an attempt at stoning in the temple only by hiding himself and escaping (John 8). Every step in his journey of obedience led him one step closer to the cross, one step closer to a horrible death.
That phrase “obedience to the point of death” has connection to the phrase “form of a servant” in verse 7. This was most likely an allusion to the servant figure prophesied about in Isaiah 52 and 53, that magnificent prophecy of the servant of the Lord. Isaiah prophecies that the servant would be despised, sorrowful, rejected, opposed, judged, stricken, cut off, put to grief, marred, pierced, crushed, and killed; all to bear the sins of many, to make intercession for the transgressors.
Adam turned his back on service to God by exalting himself, but Christ embraced service to God by humbling himself. The one who voluntarily journeyed to earth to be planted in Mary’s womb voluntarily journeyed to death in order to be planted in the heart of the earth.
Paul looked back on this voluntarily death of Christ and recognized as the greatest sign of God’s love and lavish generosity towards his people in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, with him, graciously give us all things?”
Not only did the God-Man humble himself, not only did he become obedient to the point of death, but he journeyed so low as to die on a cross. The Roman philosopher Seneca, who lived at the same time at Paul, said that anyone facing crucifixion would choose to be killed right there on the spot rather than journey to the cross.
The cross was a death before death, it was designed to slowly destroy a human being with the maximum amount of shame and suffering. The victims, contrary to what we see in most art and most film, even the most realistic film made up to this point, the 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ,” they don’t even show this aspect, that the victims are usually crucified completely naked. As a result, they spent their last hours urinating and defecating on themselves as they slowly succumbed to the suffocation from being suspended on a cross.
The brief phrase “death on a cross” was enough for Paul to use when writing to the Philippians, because at least some of them still knew what a crucifixion actually looked like, what it sounded like, what it smelled like. Interestingly, the cross didn’t gain widespread use as a Christian symbol until they stopped killing people on them. The cross was horribly offensive.
Jesus went as low as he possibly could. The self-sufficient one who needs nothing allowed himself to become so weak from his flogging that he needed a stranger from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, to help him carry his cross to the site of his execution, like Samwise Gamgee helping Mr. Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom so that Frodo could carry out the heavy task that was appointed to him alone.
The God who accounts the nations as dust on the scales fell with open wounds again and again in the dust of the earth as he was pouring out his life for the sake of the nations.
He humbled himself even lower than the physical torture of the cross. He endured spiritual torture on our behalf, for he was cut off from the sunshine of the Father’s face and thrown into an abyss of wrath and desertion as he was punished for his people’s sins. This was the worst element of the cross for Christ. Remember that he didn’t cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you let me go through this bodily torture?” but he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Something horrible happened within the Trinity at that moment.
III. His Journey to the Throne
But, after that he headed upward, to the throne. He got to journey home. In response to this ultimate act of humble obedience, the Father “highly exalted” the Son, as verse 9 tells us. “Therefore,” because of all this that went before, “God has highly exalted him.” Jesus is resurrected from the dead on the third day, and after spending 40 days on earth showing himself alive to his disciples and to others, he journeys back to God. As he said in John 20:17, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Now, Paul used the word “exalt” here to include the entire upward act of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his enthronement at God’s right hand. But what is the reason for this exaltation? Why is that “therefore” there in the text?
Sinclair Ferguson points out some reasons he sees. The first is that Jesus was exalted because of his identity. Remember, he was in the form of God. He was equal with God. It was only right and fitting and proper that he be exalted to where he was before.
Jesus was also exalted because of humble obedience. He perfectly obeyed the Father. This pleased the Father, proving the opening statement that the Father made at the outset of Jesus’s ministry, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He proved it to us by exalting him.
Jesus was also exalted because it fulfilled prophecy. The servant of the Lord, prophesied about in Isaiah 52 and 53, would, after pouring out his soul to death, after bearing the sins of many, that same text says he would have his days prolonged, he would have a portion with the many, would divide the spoil with the strong. Jesus’s exaltation fulfilled prophecy; therefore God exalted him.
But Jesus is not only exalted, he is given a name. Verses 9-11, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every 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.”
The Son is bestowed with this name, so that in his human name of Jesus he would be worshipped. Now, the text doesn’t explicitly come out and tell us what that name is, but it’s most likely the title Lord, which appears in verse 11. The original Greek word there is Kyrios (Κυριος), which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew divine title for God, Yahweh. Jesus is bestowed the precious name of God himself, the name that truly is above every other name, the Lord.
God appeared to Moses and said, “I Am who I Am. I am Yahweh; this is my sacred name,” but here he’s bestowing that name that belongs only to God on Jesus.
The text tells us the Father will show forth the Son as Lord to every single angel in heaven, every human on earth, and every demon below. Jesus will be confessed as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Sinclair Ferguson also points out that the last few verses of this section echo Isaiah 45. Isaiah 45 is really interesting; God explicitly declares that he alone is God, there is no other to whom every knee should bow and every tongue on earth should swear allegiance. But here we see that the way to glorify this only God is to worship Jesus Christ as Lord. It brings the Father glory and honor when Jesus is worshipped, because Jesus is God.
In fact, the whole plan for this journey would only work is Jesus was God, because only a divine being could bear the eternal wrath of God for sin, and only a divine being could bear the glory of the exalted office of having all things in creation reconciled in him. It would be too much weight for any mere creature to bear.
C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful illustration of this whole journey. He said, “One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in midair, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water; down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both colored now that they have come up into the light. Down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color, too.”
One of the interesting things Scripture tell us is that Jesus didn’t throw away his human nature, after he accomplished his mission, like it was some piece of equipment that already served its purpose, but he kept it, and will keep it forever. Remember the angel said he would return in the same manner that they saw him leave, in a human body. He has the divine name bestowed on him, but is still worshipped by his human name of Jesus. He is still truly God and truly man.
So in closing, what can we gather from this?
First off is imitation. His journey maps out our journey. Remember that the apostle Paul launched into this as an appeal for Christian behavior. In verse 5 he said, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and he goes on to give us this beautiful portrait of this journey Christ took on our behalf. For all of the other wonderful things Jesus’s journey means for us, it also means that we should seek to live a life of humility and service to others, based on the example he set for us.
Sinclair Ferguson points out that in John 13 Jesus actually acts out his journey in miniature. In John 13 we read, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God,” so there’s the equality with God, the form of God idea, “rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments and, taking a towel, tied it around his waist.” He humbled himself. “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” This was culturally shocking to them; only a slave would do such a thing.
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’” He gave the disciples the example of humble service by disrobing and washing their feet, so he also gave us the ultimate example of humble service by disrobing his royal robes and bowing as low as he could at the cross.
As Jesus prayed in John 17:18, “As you sent me into the world - ” so, “Father, as you sent me on a journey of humiliation, of self-humbling,” “...so I have sent them into the world,” by their self-humbling, by their service to others. “They will glorify you as I have glorified you.” After intersecting with his journey, our journey becomes in part an imitation of his. The way up is down.
We also get from this anticipation. Our journey can end in hope. Life can easily seem futile. We start as a dot too small to see, grow and have dreams and hopes and love and aspire for great things, only to eventually die, pass away, and with three or four generations be nothing more than a curious name on a family tree. Worse, Scripture tells us because of our sins an eternity of punishment and separation from God awaits us.
But, Jesus came to give our humanity a better future than what we deserve. Jesus’s resurrection body is our promise that that same resurrection awaits us if we trust in him. When a believer sees Jesus face to face after death, they will see someone who, like them, has a human body that grew inside a mother’s womb. We will gaze at the physical body that the Holy Spirit prepared in the womb of Mary. He went on his journey to give our journey hope, the hope of seeing the glory of the Triune God, the glory that we are created to enjoy.
We can also learn from Jesus’s continuing status as truly God and truly man the truth of mediation, that we have help for our journey right now. Scripture tells us that Christ is the High Priest and older brother of his people. As our High Priest, he prays for us. We have an advocate with the Father, someone who shares in our humanity. Jesus isn’t sitting at God’s right hand doing nothing. The seat at the Father’s hand isn’t a recliner. He is our mediator, who is interceding for us. In Romans 8:34 Paul writes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died; more than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Now, this is an important office that he holds as he continually adds to his church, generation after generation.
Let’s look at that map again. So, right now, as you can see, Jesus ascended; right now, he’s sitting at God’s right hand. So the other stuff on there hasn’t happened yet. He’s in that office as mediator at God’s right hand on our behalf, but his journey isn’t quite finished yet, even though he is exalted. There will be a second coming, where he will come back again, and there will be a future reign of Jesus that will end with all of God’s people, everyone gathered together in that eternal glory, sharing that preincarnate glory that the Trinity had before the creation of the world. God’s people, Jesus’s bride, will be sharing that eternal glory with him forever.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes about how Christ will deliver the kingdom to the Father after his reign has been established, that God may be all in all. So, Jesus is at God’s right hand as our High Priest.
He also brings us into God’s presence. The one who was the perfect sacrifice for our sins continually leads us into God’s presence. Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
An illustration I like for this was a Superman story I read once, actually. In this story, this alien being had poisoned the sun, you know, so the sun wouldn’t work anymore. That’s a pretty effective way to wipe out life on earth, right, just get rid of the sun. The way the sun was poisoned happened in such a way that Superman could actually do something about it. He was the only one that could see things on a quantum level, he was the only one powerful enough to go there and fix it; so he decided that he was going to go to the sun and repair it.
But this meant he had to leave earth, he had to leave everyone behind, so he confesses his love to Lois Lane and he flies off into the sun. He gets the sun working again, and the story ends with Lois Lane on a sunny day, you know, the sun shining down on her face, and she’s looking up. She knows that the only reason that that sunlight is hitting her is because he went up there and left and did something about it.
That’s what we have with Jesus. The sunlight of the Father’s face shines on us by the continue priestly application of his once-for-all finished work, accomplished on the cross. Every spiritual blessing, Scripture tells us, that we get from the Trinity comes from the priestly mediation of Jesus.
Also, as our High Priest, he understands the struggles in our journey to the Father’s glory, since he made that same journey himself. We have someone who understands us like no one else. Since he is truly God and man, he quite literally has skin in the game.
Hebrews 2:14-18, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself, likewise, partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Finally, preoccupation. Jesus’s continued existence as truly God and truly man tells us that we can see his glory now even as we journey towards it. Returning to that prayer that Jesus made on that night he was betrayed, in John 17, he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
John Owen points out that we see his glory here by faith, but one day we will see it by sight. The glimpses we get of that glory by faith are dim and fleeting compared to the glory we will see with our own eyes.
Owen points out that it’s interesting that when Christ appears to people in the New Testament after he has been exalted to the Father’s right hand and fully glorified that he simply overwhelms them with his glory. Remember the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus? His encounter with the exalted, glorified Christ blinded him! And remember John, writing the apocalypse, the book of Revelation? Even though he laid his hand on Jesus’s bosom in his gospel and he was the one that Jesus loved; when he saw him, he fell at his feet as though dead. It was simply overwhelming. It was too much for him to bear.
But he is preparing us to be able to handle the full sight of his glory, and tells us that it is when we finally see him that we shall be like him. We will be enabled to actually take in his glory full dose someday. God intends to fit us for our destination, to prepare us for that glory, to change us into his image by us beholding the glory of the face of Christ by faith as we make that journey now.
2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God…” how? How do we get that? “...in the face of Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.”
One of our greatest needs as believers is to be continually preoccupied with the glory of Christ.
John Owen sees this illustrated in Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. Moses is in the wilderness, he sees a regular bush there, but it’s burning. It’s burning and burning and burning, but the bush isn’t getting consumed by the fire! Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this strange sight.” He goes there, and he finds out that God himself, the God of his people, is manifesting himself in that bush.
In the same way, the divine fire of God, the divine nature, burned in the frail human body of Jesus, but it was not consumed! Somehow that body of Jesus was not completely destroyed by the glory of that divine nature burning within it. And Owen said that is a miracle meant to stir our hearts into worship, into beholding the glory of God. Christ as truly human yet truly God, continually, forever, is the ultimate “burning bush,” the best object that can occupy our thoughts or our affections.
If you aren’t a Christian this morning, you simple aren’t able to see the glory of Christ. It’s an impossibility. You can’t see the kingdom of God unless you’re born again from above through faith in Christ. You can’t see his glory any more than a blind man can see a painting or a deaf person can enjoy a song. Jesus can only be met at the place where he journeyed so very low to meet us: at the cross. We sense we were made for something more, and we think the way up is to make a bridge to glory through our idols, but Jesus offers us the only way, the way down through the cross, through faith in himself.
So, has your journey intersected with Jesus’s journey? Have you met him at the cross? Have you been united to his death so that you’ve been united to his resurrection? Are you journeying home to God because you’ve intersected with Jesus? If not, I urge you today to meet him at the cross with repentance and faith.
For those of us who are Christians, we need so badly to feed on the glory of Christ to have strength in our pilgrimage. I mean, the very fact that there is a being who is truly God and truly man, that’s astounding enough to warrant a lifetime of study and fascination. But he not only exists; this being loved us and gave himself up for us. He offers to manifest himself to us, to come and make his home with us, to show us the Father. So let’s devote our time and attention to beholding his glory, the one who journeyed so far to bring us home to him. Let’s pray.
Lord, we are so touched and moved by the realities that we encounter in the text this morning. Lord, I ask for anyone here who is not a believer, who’s not united to Christ by faith, that they would come to you this morning, Lord, they would meet you at the cross, where you came to meet us. Lord, for those of us who are believers, I pray that we would devote ourselves to beholding the glory of Christ in your word that you’ve provided for us, in worship, and to be changed as a result of that. In the name of Jesus we ask these things, Amen.