What sustained Jesus on that dark Friday we now call “Good,” on the single most horrible day in the history of the world? Joy. He saw ahead and was satisfied enough that what joy he tasted even then sustained him through the agony, distress, and anguish. Unlike the animals who stood in temporarily as substitutes for God’s people in the old covenant, Jesus willed it, with his human will. He embraced it. It pleased him to give his own life as a substitute for sinners — for the joy of the many who would believe and the glory of his Father. What wondrous love is this.
For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.
Those are the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a pastor in Scotland in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Edinburgh in 1813, and what’s striking about his life (and that some still remember him today) is that he lived only twenty-nine years. He died of typhus fever in 1843.
Two years later, his friend and a fellow minister Andrew Bonar published Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, which in time came to be published in over a hundred English editions. In Memoir and Remains appears a letter M’Cheyne wrote to a friend:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and [rest] in His almighty arms . . .
Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh. (293)
Ten looks at Christ for every one look at self. I suspect M’Cheyne’s counsel was striking in his day. But now, some 180 years later, what are we to make of it, living in an age so saturated in, so dominated by the ruse of the almighty self?
Ten looks at Christ for every one look at self was a countercultural word in M’Cheyne’s day. And how much more so for us now? And what healing might there be for us in heeding his counsel? How impoverished are we for our subtle and overt fixations on and fascinations with self, dwelling in a generation that both nourishes the love of self in us and conditions us for greater and deeper attention to self than we otherwise might dare venture?
So I want to ask you to come with me on a journey. I invite you in these moments — as much as you’re able — to put self aside, and together let’s take ten looks at Jesus. In this first session, we’ll take five looks at him from eternity past to the cross, and then in the second session, from his resurrection to eternity future. And with each look, we’ll anchor our glance at his glory in at least one key biblical text and also a key theological term that seeks to capture some of the majesty we find in Christ. So, ten looks at Jesus.
Look #1: He delighted his Father before creation.
Not only did he exist before creation — with all its implications for his deity — but, as divine Son, he delighted his Father, as we’ll see. First, John 1:1–3:
In the beginning was the Word [that is, the divine Son, who would come as Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Jesus — the divine Son, who would, in time, become man — existed in the beginning with God the Father. John says (1) he was with God (literally, “toward God,” as in face to face) and (2) he was himself God. Before anything was created, he was. “All things were made through him, and [if that’s not clear enough, then] without him was not anything made that was made.” The Word, the divine Son, was not made. He was not created. He himself is God — God’s own fellow and God’s own self.
Our key term for Look #1 is preexistence. The divine Son, the second person of the Trinity, who we now know as Jesus of Nazareth and as the Christ, preexisted his human life (and all creation as well). Which we see deeply embedded in various ways throughout the New Testament:
- First, he came. Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as ransom of many.” John 3:13: “The Son of Man descended from heaven.” Hebrews 10:5: “Christ came into the world.” 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
- Second, he was sent. Galatians 4:4: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.” The owner of the vineyard sent his Beloved Son (Mark 12:6).
- Third, he was given. John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 8:32: God the Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.”
So, fully God himself, Christ was given, he was sent, he came. And he preexisted not only his coming but the whole creation. So what was he doing for the endless ages of eternity past before there was time itself? He delighted his Father. And Proverbs 8:22–31 personifies God’s wisdom in such a way that for two thousand years Christians can’t help but see the preexistent Christ here. Divine wisdom speaks,
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth. . . .
When he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.
Divine wisdom rejoiced in God, and God delighted in his wisdom. Or, Son rejoiced in Father, and Father delighted in Son. And this delight of the Father in his Son, before creation ever was, helps to explain the amazing claim of Hebrews 1:1–2:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Did you catch that? The Father appointed the Son “heir of all things,” and then Hebrews adds “through whom also he created the world.” First, the Father, delighting in his Son, before creation, appoints him to be “heir of all things.” Then, with that appointment in view, God makes the world in order to fulfill his plan. Which means God made the world, and all its history, to give it as a gift to his Son.
So, Look #1, the eternal Son delighted his Father before creation, and from that delight, the Father appointed to make a world and a story that would make much of his beloved Son, that would have him as its center and climax.
Look #2: He became man.
The preexistent Son — eternally begotten, not made — became man. So not only was he sent and given and came, but he became. John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The eternal Word, whom we heard about in John 1:1, “became flesh.” Meaning, he became man. He took on our flesh and blood, our humanity. 2 Corinthians 8:9: “Though he was rich [as God], he became poor [as man].”
But his becoming might pose a problem to our minds, depending on how we think about “becoming.” Does his becoming man mean that he ceases, somehow, to be God? Does he somehow empty himself of some of his deity, as if that were possible, so that he might become human? Do humanity and deity operate on the same level of reality, so to speak, as a zero-sum game?
Addition, Not Subtraction
Philippians 2:5–7 is the key text about his emptying:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, [being] 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. [We’ll come back to verse 8 in a few minutes.]
What does it mean that he “emptied himself”? Three observations:
- Note his deity. “In the form of God” coordinates with “equality with God.” He shared in the Godhead, as one divine person among others, and as God in his own right.
- This emptying of himself related to prerogative, we might say, not divine power. He did not grasp or cling to divine rights that might have kept him from entering into the finitude and limitations of humanity, and our fallen world, and the suffering that would come to him by virtue of his being human and coming as a creature.
- This emptying, then — as Paul clarifies in the next line — was a taking, not a losing. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So, in becoming man, he did not jettison his deity, as if that were even possible, but he took our humanity — not subtracting deity, but adding humanity to his person — and thus he became man as well as God. Without ceasing to be God, he added humanity. He became the God-man.