20 November 2017

Joyfully Following

The selfless Saviour

Selfishness and greed are all too common, but selflessness and humility are rare qualities. When I think of selflessness I am reminded of my colleague Robin McCready. In 1971 Robin and his wife, Thelma, worked in one of the most impoverished and isolated towns in the Amazon. The main attraction in town was the weekly arrival of a Catalina aeroplane every Thursday. There was no landing strip so the plane ‘landed’ on the river. While the aircraft slowly drifted down stream passengers transferred into a canoe that took them to town.

One Thursday morning Robin waited with others at the riverbank. As usual, a canoe was ready to go out to meet the Catalina once it appeared out of the clouds. As the plane attempted to land against the strong current it hit the water with an almighty slap, bounced back into the air and seemed to break in two. Like a flash Robin and his friends jumped into dug-out canoes and made towards the stricken aircraft. Its engines had seized and the propellers had stopped. A steward opened a hatch to call for help. As soon as Robin got there he jumped onto the fuselage. Amidst the panic, shouts and cries he began pulling people up through the hatch and passing them into the waiting canoes. Having helped most passengers to safety he heard a call from the front cockpit. Robin staggered up the sinking fuselage to the wing. Once there, he pulled the captain and co-pilot from an overhead door and helped them onto the last canoe. With the pilots on board the canoe immediately began to speed off toward the shore, leaving Robin stranded on the wing of the sinking plane. He hollered as loud as he could for them to come back because he could not swim! With Robin’s help all but one woman on board had been rescued. Sadly she went down with the aircraft. Robin had disregarded his own safety in order to rescue others. That is selflessness.

In the first four verses of Philippians 2 Paul stressed that selflessness equals Christlikeness. He made a passionate plea for Philippian Christians to live in harmony, humility and submission. Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, Paul presented them with a perfect picture of humility and selfless submission in what probably is one of the greatest Christological passages of the Bible. Most commentators agree that these verses present a hymn, which either Paul wrote or employed as a powerful illustration.

Not only is the beauty of our Lord’s incarnation eloquently expressed in this paragraph, Paul also gives us a glimpse of our Lord’s view of the path he trod to the cross and the price He paid to accomplish His work – it cost nothing less than death. In all history there has never been a greater demonstration of self-effacing humility as when the Son of God descended to this erring world for us.

To sense the strength of Paul’s hymn, follow each step which our Lord took as He made the round-trip from the glory to the glory.

Step One: He Relinquished His Place. “Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” Another translates this, “For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal.” The word for ‘being’ occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament and always has reference to prior existence. To understand the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice, we must try to comprehend the lofty position He occupied before He was made man. Not only did Christ exist eternally, but He had existed eternally as God.

Paul, saying that He existed “in the form of God” is the same as saying that Jesus was God. Jesus Christ was not simply like God; He was the very nature and substance of God. All that God is, Jesus Christ was and is and ever will be.

Step Two: He Refused His Prerogative. “…did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. It is hard for us to fully understand this, but we do know that Christ surrendered that which He loved in order that He might save those whom He loved. Our Lord Jesus did not look ‘on His own things.’ Instead, He viewed the sinful plight of the human race.

Our Saviour made a choice to become a servant. “He emptied Himself” – “He humbled Himself” (2:7, 8). Both cases involved a very pointed and personal decision.

Step Three: He Renounced His Privileges. He “made Himself of no reputation.” “He emptied Himself.” His self-emptying was not a diminishing of His deity. If deity could be diminished it would no longer be deity. Furthermore, if Jesus Christ ceased to be God, He would be disqualified to be the Redeemer of sinful man. Although Christ continued to be the Son of God, He gave up the environment of His glory and voluntarily put Himself under the authority of the Father and the control of the Spirit to accomplish our redemption.

Step Four: He Restricted His Presence. “And took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Note these two phrases; “the form of a servant” and “the likeness of men”. Jesus affirmed His servanthood on many occasions. He gave up His universal freedom to be confined in a human body and to a small country. It is hard for us to understand the restriction that He imposed upon Himself.

The word ‘likeness’ suggests similarity with a difference. Though His humanity was genuine, He was different from all other humans in that He was sinless. He not only became a man, He became a baby.

Step Five: He Realised His Purpose. “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The death of Jesus Christ was not an accident. It was in the plan of God from before the foundation of the world. Nearly one-third of the Gospels are devoted to the Saviour in the shadow of the cross. The purpose for His coming was His death. The writer of the Book of Hebrews made it clear that our Lord was made flesh for one supreme reason, “…that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for man” (Heb. 2:9).

In the phrase, “even the death of the cross,” we are reminded of the terrible punishment that Christ endured on our behalf. Crucifixion was the cruellest death reserved for the worst criminals. For Jesus Christ it was much more than the physical suffering: From below, Satan and all his hosts assailed Him, from around Him men heaped scorn upon Him, from above, God dropped upon Him a veil of darkness, a symbol of the curse and from within there arose the bitter cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” At Calvary, Christ descended into the horrors of death.

Step Six: He Received His Promotion. The Ascension was only the beginning of our Lord’s exaltation. Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. Paul looked to a future day when every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Systematic Christology is complete in this Christ-centred hymn where we learn of Christ’s preexistence, His incarnation, His humiliation, His crucifixion and His ascension and exaltation.

Step Seven: He Reproduces this same pattern in His People. “It is God that worketh in you…” The Lord Jesus teaches us that the way up is the way down. Peter put it this way, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6).

The principle of selflessness and the humble passion which stimulated the Lord Jesus must become the same principle and passion by which we are motivated.

Victor Maxwell