Chapter Four: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in the Extent to Which He Went in Making Us His Own
When we consider the love of men, we immediately realize that one thing in which the greatness of their love may be seen is the extent to which they are willing to go, and the labors they are ready to undertake, in order to win for themselves their beloved. It was a great love of Jacob for Rachel that he labored for her seven years, and they seemed but a few days (Gen. 29:18-20); but how much greater must the love of our Savior be for us, who for thirty-three years set his hand to unspeakably great and difficult labors and never looked back, until he had finally made us his own! But no, it was far longer than thirty-three years, even, that he undertook his immense labors to redeem us â€“ for from all eternity, before the worlds had been created, he solemnly undertook to make us his own, and for all of history he has been engaged in no other work but that.
1. Before creation, Christ set his love on us and determined to win us with mighty and laborious works
If we would make a survey of the great works that Christ undertook, and note all the mighty things he accomplished out of love for us, we must begin before time and creation, in the eternal council of the godhead; for his love for us was before the world began, we were written in the book of his blood-bought life before the earth's foundations had been laid (see Revelation 17:8), and in fact, creation itself, and all that took place thereafter, was but one part of the many works that Christ undertook to the end that he might delight in the unending worship of the people of his love.
In the second psalm, we are given a glimpse into the eternal council between the Father and the Son, in which the Father offers to our Christ, whom he has determined to set as King over his chosen city Zion, a reward for his labors. â€œAsk of me,â€ he tells him, â€œand I will make nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possessionâ€ (Psalm 2:8). The Son gladly accepts this people from the ends of the earth as his portion, and agrees to reign over them in Zion, and to crush all of their enemies as a potter's vessel. This is an amazing agreement of immense love, because he knew that the price he would have to pay to win us as his heritage would be this, that he would be required to pour out his own soul to death, and be numbered with transgressors, and bear the sins of many and intercede for them; but all this he was willing to do, knowing that the Father would then give him his beloved reward, even the righteous seed that was promised him. So from the anguish of his soul, he saw the reward of his beloved people, and was satisfied by the knowledge of the inheritance he would win, and willingly offered himself up to justify them (Isaiah 53:10-12). From before the worlds began, then, his love of his people was great enough to motivate him to undertake unspeakable works in order that he might win them; and this same love sustained him in his passion. He rejoiced in his heritage, and for this joy that the Father had placed before him, he endured even the cross, and despised the shame of it, and has now sat down in triumph at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:2).
2. In creation, his love remained firm: for it was through Christ that all things were created; it is by Christ that all things are held together; it is for the sake of Christ that all the events of history are governed; and all this so that he might win the bride of his love
After this immense pledge of love, by which the Son gladly undertook unspeakable things in the inter-triune counsel for the prize of the people his Father had chosen for him, he began in time to do those things required of him, the first of which was this, that he created the world and all that is in it, never losing sight of the fact that this world would be the stage upon which his drama of love would be acted out. The Son was the effective Word of the Father, who said, â€œLet there be light,â€ and through the agency of the Son, brought light into being (Gen. 1:1, 3; John 1:1-3). In fact, all things were made through him, and for him (Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11).
But what was the culmination of this vast creative work? It was so that the man whom he had made might rejoice in his presence, and dwell with him, and delight in his glory. Thus, after six days of mighty labors, he rested in the joy of fellowship with mankind, and walked in the Garden with him (Gen. 2; 3:8a). Why did God create the world? They who say it was for his glory are certainly right: but what is it for God to be glorified? He already knew his own glory intimately, and could gain nothing by the display of that which he perfectly knew without any display at all. Thus, it was ultimately love which constrained him to create, so that, in displaying his glory, he might bring a joyful response of worship to the hearts of those whom he created in love to love his glory, and so that he himself might delight in the delight that they had in him. So creation was a mighty work done out of love for man and angels, that they might have the joy of seeing the divine glory that the Persons of the triune godhead had always delighted in among themselves. The Persons of the godhead rejoiced in their great glory, and in love wished to spread that joy to others, and so created others that might look upon their glory and be delighted.
But if it was out of love for angels that God created the world and displayed his glory, it was much more so out of love for man; for man was that creature who bore his image, and man was the one invited to walk with God in the most beautiful part of all creation (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:8). And then again, God displayed his glory in six days of mighty works, and rested on the seventh in loving fellowship with man; but this was all so that he might enact the greater work of redemption, in which he would labor for many ages, with mightier works than creation had ever required, so that he might bring the people of his love into their eternal sabbath rest (see Hebrews 3-4), where they might delight, not just in his glory of creative power, but in his greater glory of redemptive love. But this greater redemptive love is manifestly not for angels, but only for the seed of beloved Abraham (Heb. 2:16). And the greatness of his love for his people may be seen in this, also, that the greatest joy of the holy angels is not the favor God has shown to them, nor the beauty and splendor with which he has endowed them, but only this, that they might gaze upon the wonder of his redemptive love, which is reserved for men alone (1 Pet. 1:12).
When you see the beauty of creation, therefore, and are struck with the glory it displays, you may say this in your heart: â€œHow wonderful it is that the God who created all this did so out of love for me, so that I might see his glory! What a love that he made this vast universe as a stage upon which he might act out a greater love yet, in giving himself up to torment for my salvation! What a love, that he labored for six days, to enter into the rest of fellowship with my first father, where he could delight in his creative glory; and what a mightier love beyond all words that he labored for countless generations to enter into the rest of eternal fellowship with me, when I was condemned with my first father, so that I might delight in the glory of his redemptive love!â€.
We must press on now, but we will pause to note that, even as the great work of creation was accomplished by Christ out of love for his people, so even today, all things hold together by his mighty power (Col. 1:17), and all history runs according to his wise and sovereign ends, all out of love for us, so that he might accomplish indeed the feats that his love impelled him to for our salvation. What mighty acts there are in creation and providence, which are all directed toward the eternal good that his love delights to ordain for us!
3. After Adam's sin, Christ immediately offered himself as the Guarantor and Champion of his fallen people, signifying and foretelling the great agony it would cost him
But even the greatness of the love which was shown by Christ's creating, sustaining, and governing all the world for our sakes, so that he might be our portion and take us as his heritage, is as nothing compared to the love he displayed for us in the mighty things he did after the sin of our first father. For immediately after Adam had sinned, and plunged us all into a terrible curse and divine displeasure, he showed himself to Adam as the One who would, by immense labors, redeem him and win back all that his foolish rebellion had forfeited. Adam had stood before God, representing all his seed with which he would populate the earth by his fruitful wife Eve, the mother of all living; and he had summarily violated the terms by which God had promised to give him eternal life and blessing. But no sooner had he done this, than Christ stepped down in love, and said, â€œAdam may have failed to guarantee the eternal life and blessedness of the people I was promised, but I will not let them go. I will be the Guarantor and Champion of my people! I will represent them to the Father! I will take up this broken covenant and guarantee its satisfaction by my own self! The requirements for blessing, which Adam has failed to accomplish, I will fulfill; yes, and what's more, now that he has become deserving of the threatened curse, I will take that upon myself; yes, and what's more, now that he has been defeated by that great Enemy, the Serpent, I will undertake to defeat him once and for all, to crush his head beneath the feet of my portion, my people, even though it should mean that the heel of my humanity, taken on for them that I might become their second Adam, must be bruised in the conflict!â€
Christ willingly and lovingly showed himself forth in this capacity to his people when he let it be promised of him that he would become the Seed of the woman, to crush the head of the tempting Serpent (Gen. 3:15); and when he let it be signified of him that he would cover their shame and guilt by his own blood, God at once clothing our first parents with an innocent animal, slain in their place (Gen. 3:21). And he caused this expectation to grow and continue in our first parents, so that they hoped by raising up seed to find the promised Messiah (Gen. 4:1, 25), and taught their offspring to look ahead to him in faith when they offered up substitutionary blood sacrifices from their flocks (Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4).
4. Thereafter, he was faithful to mediate for, guide, protect, and instruct his people throughout their generations, never failing or faltering however great the causes to do so became
After this mighty display of love, when Christ offered himself up in promise as the Guarantor and Champion of his people, pledging by his own life to fulfill the terms of the broken covenant and bring them back to God, he never wavered in loving his own, but he was ever with them, and he always remained faithful to mediate between them and the Father, to intercede for them, to guide, protect, and preserve them, and to cause their faith and hope to grow in clarity and in fervor as he revealed himself to them in many ways. This love was immense indeed, for the people he had been promised were often unfaithful, and hurled at him so many insults and aggravations that the most patient man in history would soon have grown weary of them, and abandoned them to their own sins, no matter what he had promised before. Yes, even Moses, the meekest man on earth, who had suffered with their stiff-necked rebellions and offered to give up his own soul and to be blotted out of the book of life for their sakes (Ex. 32:31-32), finally grew sick of them, and would have cast them off entirely.
â€œMoses said to the LORD, 'Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, â€œCarry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,â€ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, â€œGive us meat, that we may eat.â€ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness'â€ (Num 11:11-15 ESV). So even the love of Moses, the great mediator and intercessor for the people, and the meekest man on earth (Num. 12:3), soon grew cold; but our Savior suffered immensely more wrongs from us than Moses ever knew, and when did his love falter? He never cast us off, but instead sustained us and revealed ever more of his tender affection for us in many countless ways, no matter how we provoked him. When we were never so filthy, and the devilish Adversary was convinced that he could finally prevail upon God to disown us for our sin and corruption, even then he refused to give up interceding for us, and stripping off our sinful garments he clothed us with his own spotless righteousness, and pled for us to the Father (Zech. 3).
He came down to his people visibly at crucial times in their history
At many key times in redemptive history, when his promised people were weak, tempted, and troubled, the eternal Son of God came down in love, and appeared before them in visible form, that he might strengthen and protect them. Thus he appeared to Abraham, when his faith was tempted, and reassured him of his promise to give him a seed, upon which his whole hope of redemption rested; for he knew it was through his own loins that the Christ would eventually come and deliver us all. He ate and drank with him, and mercifully specified the exact time in which he would give Sarah this promised seed, since they were both very old and their faith was under assault; and moreover, he spoke with him about the impending destruction he had planned for Sodom, and was importuned to be merciful, for Abraham his beloved servant's sake, to Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Gen. 18). After this, he condescended to appear to Jacob in human form, when the promise of his coming was in grave peril, the chosen heir of Abraham and Isaac having been driven from the promised land and in danger of his life on every side; and he wrestled with him, and became weak in his strong desire to grant him a blessing, and he gave him victory with God (Gen. 32). By this event, Jacob was so strengthened in the faith that he later remembered it on his death bed, and prophesied eternal blessing to his descendants because his God, that is, the Angel of the Covenant, who is Christ, had ever watched over and protected him, and certainly would, therefore, preserve and bless his offspring (Gen. 48:15-16).
Then, the Son of God revealed himself visibly, as the Angel of the Covenant, to Moses, that great man of God, when he came down to deliver his people from bondage (Ex. 3): he called to him from a lowly bush springing from dry ground, burning with fire and yet unconsumed, and revealed to him there his name, in earnest and foreshadow of how he would become a root from a dry ground (Isa. 53:2), and take upon himself all the fiery wrath of God, and still rise from the dead and be unconsumed by that eternal wrath; and all so that he might manifest the Name of God to the people of his favor (John 17:2-3, 6). And so likewise he revealed his glory and proclaimed his name when he hid him in a cleft of the Rock (Ex. 33:12-23).
When Joshua, the successor to Moses, first brought the people into the promised land, then Christ came down in visible form, and appeared before him as the Captain of the Lord's hosts (Joshua 5:13-15). In this, he was signifying that he himself was the Savior and Champion who would rule over and protect his people, and that no enemy could harm them unless he had first overcome their great Captain; a pledge which he would ultimately make good upon when he took the mighty conflict of the ages to the hill of Calvary, where he interposed himself between his people and their greatest enemy, and went to the grave so that they might not feel a breath of the whirlwinds of terror there directed against them.
At other key times, Christ continued to reveal himself, so that the faith of his people might remain vigorous: when they were oppressed, he revealed himself to Gideon (Judges 6:11-27), and afterwards to Manoah (Judges 13), promising them deliverance from all their enemies, who threatened to consume them; and then he called out to young Samuel, when the visions of God were scarce (1 Sam. 3), and by him anointed a king and shepherd, David the beloved (1 Sam. 16), through whom he promised yet again to come as the long-awaited Seed of the woman (2 Sam. 7); to this same David he appeared over the site of the Temple and put away his sword, strengthening his faith and promising again that the sword of divine vengeance would be satisfied, that he would see to it that it might remain forever sheathed in his omnipotent mercy (2 Sam. 24).
Then, he appeared in a dream to Solomon (1 Kings 3:1-15), and showed himself by his prophets to all the kings who arose after him; and when God had finally driven his people out for their many sins, yet still he did not abandon them, but he appeared many times in visions to his prophet Zechariah, and interceded for them with the Father, and never faltered in his steadfast love, but revealed himself in his faithfulness to his unfaithful people, that their faith might not fail. And so it was that, after so many generations, and in spite of sin and failure and exile, because of his faithfulness and unchanging love, some few of his people who remembered his promises were still awaiting him in truth when he came, as, for example, his prophet Simeon, who saw the ardent expectation of so many generations culminate in the advent of a tiny baby to the Temple, and took him up in his arms and blessed him (Luke 2:22-35).
He was signified before them in diverse and comfortable ways
But those times when he condescended, as a pledge and foreshadow of the final condescension of his incarnation, to reveal himself in visible form to his people, so that they might see God in his mercy, favor, and love, were not the only ways in which his love was making itself known throughout the generations of Israel's history. For another thing, he was displaying the greatness of his love in ever clearer and fuller ways through the types and shadows by which he was pleased to reveal himself in that age of his people's childhood (see Gal. 4:1-7). Thus, he revealed himself to Noah as the only Ark in which he and his family might be saved, bringing them into its very bosom, where they might go through the wrath of God which was poured out on all the world, and still be safe by virtue of their incorporation into that ark which took the brunt of the fury against itself, and protected those inside (Gen. 6-9). So we who have been united to Christ by baptism have already gone through the wrath of the Father, which was poured out upon Christ in his baptism of wrath on the cross, and we are still safe in him (1 Pet. 3:20-22). And he also drew back the bow of divine vengeance against himself, when he gave Noah the sign of the rainbow.
To Abraham, he signified what his love would do for his salvation, when in a vision he walked alone through the animal halves, promising then in a shadowy mystery to deliver his own body up to be broken for him, that he might make the covenant of his grace firm thereby (Gen. 15). And in giving him the sign of circumcision, a bloody cutting off of the foreskin of the organ by which he had agreed to come as the promised Seed, he was demonstrating again, in his love, how he would submit to a bloody death to establish his Covenant of Grace; and it was only they in whom Christ had not been cut off, that is, they who did not have the sign marked upon them of his bloody death on the cross, who would themselves be cut off from God's people (Gen. 17).
Then, he showed himself to Moses as the lowly plant bearing all the fire of God's wrath without being consumed, and in that passion revealing to his people the sacred Name of God (Ex. 3). And he revealed himself as the tabernacle in which God's glory dwells (cf. John 1:14; 2:19-22, and as the altar upon which he would be offered up to atone for his people, the laver by which they would be cleansed from their sins, the Bread of the Presence, which would nourish them and show them God (cf. John 6), the Candlestick which would lighten every one of them with the very Truth (cf. John 8); and also as the altar of incense, from which his high priestly pleas for his beloved people would ascend to the Father, and be acceptable to him (cf. John 17); and as the veil, which, being torn on the cross, would finally admit access to the very presence of God (cf. Mat. 27:51; Heb 10:19-20); and as the Ark of the Covenant, upon whom God would dwell in mercy for his people, and in whom would be manna for their sustenance, and the second, unbroken set of tablets of the Law, which God in his spotless righteousness would look upon and be pleased (Ex. 25-30).
He revealed himself as the pillar of cloud and fire, bringing God's visible presence to his people, guiding them in all their sojourn, protecting them from their enemies, shielding them from the scorching heat of the sun by day and illuminating the surrounding darkness by night (Ex. 13:17-22). And he was the Rock that followed them in the wilderness, from whom flowed life-giving water (Ex. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:4), and the manna that came down as their bread from heaven.
He showed himself to be their final blood sacrifice, as those unblemished animals who were wholly consumed by fire as if it were God's wrath and yet effective, in a figure, to bring the people atonement, sanctification, forgiveness, and cleansing (Lev. 1-7). He was the red heifer, from whom would flow the purifying waters of the life-giving Spirit, sent to convey the effects of his death (those ashes to which he was reduced on the cross, as it were, although he still overcame) to the filthy hearts of his people (Num. 19). He was the grain of the meal offerings, anointed with the oil of the Spirit, sprinkled with the frankincense of sweet-smelling intercession to the Father, free from the leaven of sin, without need of any added honey of good works, mingled with the salt of an eternal and inviolate covenant (Lev. 2). He was the peace offering upon which all his people might feast in joy and unity before God. He was the Passover Lamb, whose blood would save his people from the coming wrath (Ex. 12). He was the brazen serpent, lifted up in the wilderness as the very image of their disgusting sin and the punishment it brought down against them, so that all who looked upon it, as they would later look on Christ, being lifted up as a curse on the cross, might be healed, and forgiven, and live (Num. 21:4-9; John 3:14-15).
He revealed himself to his people by the types of their saviors, judges, intercessors, and kings. He was Melchizedek, without father or mother, who blessed Abraham and gave him victory (Gen. 14:17-24). He was Joseph, betrayed by his brothers, cast down into the pit for no wrong of his own, and lifted up to the right hand of the king of the world, where he might save them and give them gifts, and freely forgive their wrongs (Gen. 37-50). He was Moses, who was miraculously preserved after birth when the wrath of the king destroyed all the male children of the people, and who was a great prophet and mediator and deliverer of the people (Exodus through Deuteronomy). He was Joshua, their savior, who did what Moses failed to do, and brought them into the promised land of his presence indeed, and defeated all their enemies before them (the Book of Joshua). He was Samson, who by his death destroyed their foes and set them free (Judges 13-16). He was David, hated by his brothers, pursued and betrayed by his closest friends, but raised up by God to conquer all enemies, and reign over and shepherd his people (1 Sam. 16 through 2 Sam. 24). He cut off the giant's head with his own sword, just as the Christ would crush the devil by the very cross he had raised against him in malice (1 Sam. 17). He was Solomon, great in wisdom, reigning in perfect peace and prosperity, sought out by the ends of all the earth, the desire of nations (1 Kings 1-10). He was Mordecai, who looked upon the plight of his people, and was furious against their enemies, and hanged their great antagonist on his own gallows, putting him to public shame (the book of Esther). He was Jonah, who went into the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, and arose again to take the gospel message to the nations, that they might find life through repentance (the book of Jonah). These are but a few of the ways in which he revealed himself to his people, his great love moving him in compassion to strengthen their faith by whatever means he found necessary.
He revealed to them himself and his gracious promises by his Spirit through the prophets
But not only did he come down visibly to help his people, and not only did he reveal himself to them in many types and shadows, but he also granted to them many clear and precious promises, by his Spirit whom he sent to speak to them through the prophets. After he first promised to come and be their Champion, when Adam had failed in the Garden, then he saw their faith grow weak and their hope almost fail many times, and his love stirred within him, and he came and gently blew upon the smoldering wicks of their faith by his Spirit, and kindled again a surer confidence (see Isa. 42:1-3). He promised by the prophets to come as Shiloh and wield the scepter of his Kingdom forevermore (Gen. 49:10), to arise as a Star of Jacob and reign eternally (Num. 24:17), to be the fierce defender of his people, a Lion from Judah to rend all their foes (Gen. 49:9). He promised to come from the woman (Gen. 3:15), and then to come from Abraham's seed (Gen. 17:15-27), and then he promised that from the loins of Isaac and Jacob he would take a body (e.g. Gen. 21:12; 25:23), and then that he would come from David's dynasty and reign upon his throne forever (2 Sam. 7). He spoke by David most intimately and personally in all the psalms, and let his people overhear him, as it were, pleading to the Father for their deliverance, offering up his groans and pleas in their behalf, crying out for their mercy because of his perfect righteousness and immense sufferings. As the time grew nearer, and the sins of his people were multiplied, so that they even went into exile for their great rebellions, then he had pity on them, and revealed himself ever more fully, and promised to go after them, even into exile from his own beloved Father, that he might bring them back again. He said that he would be God with them (Isa. 7:14), that he would arise as a Branch from David (e.g. Is. 11:1), that he would destroy all the false, cruel shepherds so that he himself might shepherd his people (Jer. 23:1-8; Ezek. 34). He promised to be the very breath of their nostrils, and let himself be delivered up into the pits of their enemies so that they might be forgiven (Lam. 4:20-22); and he showed the vast sufferings that he would enter into, as the Servant of the Lord sent down in their behalf, to bring them back to God (e.g. Isa. 52:13-53:12). He promised to come into the latter, lesser temple and shed upon it the very glory of God (Hag. 2:1-7), and to rise as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2); and many other things did he promise them in his immense pity, loving them steadfastly forever and ever, and never abandoning them no matter how they tested and tried him.
He thereby won for himself many names, which the faithful laid hold of for their hope of salvation
In this way, the Son of God won for himself very many names and titles that his people found to be most precious seals of his love, and by which they were sustained with the hope of his tender mercy in all their trials. He was called the Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15); the seed of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:16); Shiloh, to whom the Scepter belongs (Gen. 49:10); the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:9); the â€œI AMâ€ (Ex. 3:14; Jn 8:58); the Passover Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world (Ex. 12; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7); the Star and Scepter of Jacob (Num. 24:17); the Angel of the Lord, or the Angel of God's Presence (see Genesis 16:9-14; Genesis 21:17-20; Genesis 22:11-18; Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21/Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; 33:2/34:9; Num 20:16; Num 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24; Judges 13:3-23; 2 Sam 24:16-17;1 Kings 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 1 Chron 21:11-20; Psalm 34:7,9; Psalm 35:5-6; Isaiah 37:36; Isaiah 63:9; Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:22; Hosea 12:4-5/Genesis 32:24-30; Zechariah 1:9-19; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 12:8; Malachi 3:1); the Arm of the Lord (Isa. 51:9; 53:1); the Root and Branch of David (Isa. 4:2; 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Rev. 5:5); the King of Glory (Psalm 24:7-10); the Desire of Nations (Hag. 2:7); The Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6); The Fairest among ten thousand and the Altogether Lovely (Song of Solomon 5:10-16); the Sun of Righteousness, risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2); the Teacher and Rock of Israel (Is. 30:20, 29); a Hiding Place from the wind, a Shelter from the storm, Streams of Water in a dry place, and the Shadow of a Great Rock in a weary land (Is. 32:2); our Lawgiver, Judge, and King (Isa. 33:22); the Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53:3); the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14); the suffering Servant (e.g. Isa. 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:11); the Prophet (Deut. 18:15-19); that Name above every name, Jesus (Deut. 31:3, 23; Mat. 1:21), who saves his people from their sin; the Messiah (e.g. Psalm 2:2); Immanuel (Isa. 7:14); Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6); the Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; Isa. 28:16); the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1); the Ruler of Israel (Mic. 5:2); the Wisdom of God (Prov. 8:12) â€“ all these names, and many others, did our Savior win, and he revealed himself to his people in all these ways, so that they might take courage, and rest their souls in his love, and not despair of their final salvation.
If the eternal Son of God would set his hand to such immense and patient works in order to win his people, how great must his love for us be? Throughout all of history, he was delivering his people from every enemy, forgiving all their sins, making his mercy new to them every morning (Lam. 3:22-23), revealing himself to them by many precious and comforting names. His love for them never failed, even when the greatest love we could ever have conceived of would have run dry a thousand times over! And all this was still before his love came to its fullness, before he actually came down in love to do what in his compassion he had promised us that he would do. These are just the first whisperings and subtle foretastes of his love that would explode beyond all bounds of sense and understanding in the fullness of times, when he descended to us in love, and showed us what his mercy and compassion really are. If the slight and preparatory love of Christ was immense and beyond all measure, what must his love in all its fullness be like?
5. In the fullness of the times, he came down perfectly to fulfill all the promises of his love
After the immense love and patience of Christ for his people had run their course to the end of the childhood of his Bride, then he loved her indeed, and in the time for marriage set forth his hand to win her forever, and make her his Wife; and ah, what love it was that he showed her then I could not begin to utter if I had all the tongues of the highest angels at my disposal. How weak and inadequate my stammerings will be, but my Jesus loves me, and perhaps will be pleased with them anyway, as a mother delights in the contemptible scribblings of her child, and hangs them up prominently, just because he is her child, and they were done out of love for her, and she loves him and delights in his little love beamed back to her in so paltry and unrefined a way.
How can I begin to speak of the love of Christ which he displayed when he walked on this earth? I wander about as a child, lost in immense vistas of grace, overwhelmed by the staggering greatness of it all no matter where I turn. But these are a few of the things he did, and some of the promises he fulfilled in his love for us.
Being in the form of God, he took upon himself the form of a servant
The great climax of the redeeming love of Christ began with his infinite descent to us, so that he might become like us in every respect except for our sinfulness (Heb. 2:17; 4:15), and love us as one of us, intimately and perfectly. For all eternity he existed in the very form of God, an infinitely high and glorious form, and utterly inscrutable and impenetrable and invisible to the weak eye of flesh. But while he was in that form, no man had ever been able to see him and live; and the revelations that he had given to his people all that time had only been, as it were, the very back parts of his glory (Ex. 33:18-23). But in his immense love, he desired to impart to his people a greater knowledge of the infinite and altogether lovely God, and so he consented to wrap up all the fullness of the eternal godhead in a bodily form (Col. 2:9). This means that, being in the form of God, he condescended to take on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5-11), so that his people might see him and know him intimately, and thus intimately see and know the Father, with whom he is one (John 14:9), and still live. This condescension is so great that no one who is not infinite in his capacity to understand could ever begin to appreciate its full import.
Imagine that the most powerful emperor who ever lived had a wise, beautiful, noble, and well-beloved son, the very paragon of all that we could conceive of as royal glory; and imagine further that, in the filthiest slums of his poorest city, there lived a prostitute as lowly and destitute and unlovely and crippled as ever crawled about in the filth of squalor. Now, suppose this noble prince set his love on that lowly woman; and suppose that, fearful to terrify her by the greatness of his glory, he gave up all his riches and prestige, took upon himself rags, and wandered for years in the squalor surrounding her, living as she did, surviving on moldy crusts, sleeping in gutters, trembling in the frost. Suppose that he pursued her in this way for many years, and when she despised him he bore with it all patiently, and he gave himself up to care for and provide for her so that he might win her love. And suppose that, in doing this, he degraded himself so utterly in the eyes of his kingdom that all who had trembled before him, and bowed down in terror when he walked by, now only laughed and mocked at him, they spat upon and beat and bruised him; and finally, when they set their evil hearts to abuse this woman whom he had loved, he put himself between them, and gave up his life protecting her â€“ supposing all that, do you think you have formed a fitting picture of the love of Christ for his Church? No, you have not even scratched the surface, for the descent of this great prince is as nothing to the descent that Christ made from a glory which far exceeds all the light and momentary splendor of earthly kings, so that he might pursue and win and love us forever.
He fulfilled his promise to provide for us a perfect obedience, in the place of Adam, that he might freely give us the rewards of the Covenant
But after he made his infinite descent and came down to us in the form of a despised child, mocked by all the people who thought him a bastard, hated by the king who undertook to spill his blood, turned out by the innkeeper and sheltered among brute beasts, who had more tender feeling than his own people, whom he had loved and protected for thousands of years â€“ after he had made so great a descent, then he did more amazing things yet in his love for us, and it proved deeper and wider and higher and broader and stronger than we could have imagined. For first of all, he who is Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge consented to be under the Law (Gal. 4:4), under his mother and supposed father, whom he himself created, under Moses and them who sat in his seat. Although he came down to do his true Father's business of redeeming a people, yet he was subject and obedient to his parents in everything (Luke 2:49-51). He obeyed the Law fully and perfectly, even submitting to those wicked scribes who sat in Moses' seat, to the extent that they proclaimed Moses' Law (Mat. 23:1-3) â€“ but this Moses was only a servant in the house of God, and Jesus is the Son and Heir, and the Architect and Builder of the house (Heb. 3:3-6). He even payed taxes to the Temple, bringing them out of the mouth of a fish (Mat. 17:24-27), although he was the Son of the Temple's Lord, and his body was the true Temple (John 2:19-21), and it was to him that the Temple taxes belonged by right.
Why did Jesus submit himself to and fulfill all the Law so perfectly and minutely, when by nature he was far above it? Only because of this: that he had promised, as Guarantor of the Covenant of Grace, that he would provide a perfect obedience, which would merit the promised rewards of the Covenant of Works. Adam had failed to win the rewards of the Covenant for all who were in him, and so Christ took the place of Adam, subjecting himself to the Law that it had been incumbent upon him to fulfill, and obeying it perfectly.
But consider how much greater the obedience of Christ was than the obedience of Adam would have been, had he obeyed: Adam was in a fruitful Garden, surrounded by all sorts of pleasant things to eat, and already enjoying a righteousness and innocence that was pleasing to God; but Christ, when he came to be our second Adam, found himself in a howling wilderness, with nothing to eat or drink for forty days, and was only then tempted by that same wicked serpent just to make a loaf of necessary bread for his scant subsistence (Mat. 4:1-11). But where Adam failed, he won a resounding victory, and remembered the Word and Law of God, and refused to gain the eternal reward in any way not commanded to him by the Father. The Serpent spewed his venom against the first Adam, and wrought unspeakable havoc; but when he spewed his venom against the second Adam, he turned all that havoc upon his own head, and secured his own demise. In bruising the second Adam's heel, he found himself the recipient of a skull-crushing and irremediable blow. Such perfect obedience! Such a mighty victory! And why did the Christ take up arms to so great an accomplishment? Out of pure and eternal love for his Bride.
He fulfilled his promise to satisfy fully the curse of the offended Law, in the place of Adam and all us who were in him
But the Messiah's work of love was not yet over. Remember when he pledged to be our Covenant Champion, when Adam had been overcome? The task then appeared to be impossible, because, even if he should accomplish a perfect obedience, the Law had already once been broken, and still cried out for infinite and eternal punishment. The necessary obedience Christ provided in his perfect life on earth, during which time he loved his Father with all his heart and soul and might, and his neighbor as himself, even as the Law demanded of him (at. 22:37-40); but there still wanted the perfect and infinite satisfaction for its first infraction. The Giver of the Law is infinite in his glory and holiness and righteousness; and so the requisite punishment for rebelling against him must be infinite as well. The one great principle of divine justice is this: â€œAs you have done, so it shall be done to youâ€ (Obad. 1:15; cf. also Lev. 24:17-22); but what was it that Adam did? At the heart of it, he had despised and railed against the very existence of God, he had attempted to de-throne God and set himself up in his place, he had set his hand to nothing less than God-murder. But if he had striven to murder One who is infinite in his being, then the fitting punishment could only be infinite death in himself. Adam was not infinite in his nature, and so his own death could not meet this demand of justice; hence, the infinitude required, not being able to be satisfied essentially, had to be satisfied temporally. Adam had merited infinite punishment, and since he was finite he could only satisfy it by eternal punishment, a death of separation from God that was forever conscious and never ending.
But how could that punishment ever be fulfilled and done away with, when it is infinite in its nature? Ah, this as well, Jesus accomplished for us, in his unspeakable love, and it was he alone who could ever have done so. Any mere man could only satisfy the required punishment of the Law of divine justice by suffering infinitely in time, that is, for all eternity. But because Christ is truly and fully God, he could suffer infinitely in his essential nature, all at one time, and utterly fulfill the penal requirement of the Law once for all. Adam's sin, and that of which we are all guilty in him, is attempted deicide (God-murder); the divine principle of justice, â€œas you have done, so shall it be done to you,â€ therefore, requires nothing less than a death worth as much as the life of God; and Jesus, therefore, being God, came down to give his own life, which is eternal and divine, to satisfy the curse of the Law in our place. But even though he was God, he was not yet the One who was qualified to satisfy the broken Law; for the Law was broken by a human, and it demanded human blood. That is why he came down to us in human form, why he took upon himself the nature of Abraham's seed; so that he might be our second Adam, and thus legally qualified both to provide in our stead the righteousness that we need and to satisfy in our stead the curse that we merited; because he is one of us, he can be our substitute, and because he is God he can accomplish something of infinite worth, sufficient for an infinitely great God.
And thus it was that Jesus, the only God-Man, took upon himself all the curse of sin, and suffered all that sin ever caused us to suffer: because of sin, there is in this world both death and sickness, hatred and betrayal, hunger, spite, defamation, and every kind of evil which it would take a whole dictionary to catalogue. But which of them did Jesus not suffer? He bore our sicknesses and weaknesses (Mat. 8:17), he hungered and was thirsty and weary (Mat. 4:2; John 4:6-7; 19:28), he suffered betrayal, lies, hatred, denial, cruelty, shame, every bad thing that sin has brought into this world. And then â€“ ah, how far beyond understanding is this! â€“ he suffered God's own wrath against sin, and the full essence of that first penalty which Adam's sin had brought, even the death of separation from God. Jesus was God the Son, for all eternity he had dwelt in the blessed fellowship of the Trinity, his love for the Father was infinite and unchangeable â€“ how then could he ever consent to be separated from the Father of his love? But his love for us â€“ ah, how far beyond understanding! â€“ impelled him at last to those most staggering and unsearchable words ever spoken under heaven, â€œMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?â€ (Mat. 27:46; Psalm 22:1). He became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), even though he knew that curse was nothing less than separation from God. Ah, what a love! Our Christ has accomplished it all, there is, therefore, now, no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), for he has suffered all that condemnation in himself, and in his infinite, divine nature he has still overcome. All the wrath of God burning upon him could not destroy this root from a dry ground, he has absorbed it all and suffered it all, and still he overcame, and offers full and free pardon to him who has no money or price in his hand (Isa. 55:1-3).
He fulfilled his promise to conquer our great Enemy, even at great cost to himself
We have now seen what mighty works Christ undertook in his love for us, in order to represent us to God as our federal head: he fulfilled a perfect righteousness, offered himself up in all his human and divine nature as a perfect sacrifice, and presented both his perfect, active obedience and his complete satisfaction of suffering to God for us, as our representative and mediator; but his accomplishment was even greater than we have imagined, for in the midst of all his doing of these great and wonderful things, accomplishing a perfect active and passive obedience in our place, he was steadfastly opposed and fiercely resisted by our first enemy, that old Serpent, the Devil â€“ and thus, we may see how he has made good upon that first promise to engage our mighty Foe in battle, and to crush his head, even though it would mean bruising the heel of his human flesh.
Consider, in the saga of Christ's accomplishing a perfect redemption for us in his life on earth, how incessantly he was opposed by the devil and all his forces. The Serpent alone whispered one little lie (but a lie that would have unspeakable consequences!) in the ear of Eve, and that little stroke brought down the whole human race. What a fierce and mighty antagonist he proved then to be! But for all of Christ's life, he was raging in lies and deceptions and fierce betrayals and cruel persecutions without cessation; and not just he alone, but hordes of devils, all the angels that he had ever enticed to fall, in fact, were all joined together in waging warfare against our Champion, our David who had to face a giant a million times more formidable than the uncircumcised Philistine (see 2 Sam. 17).
Even at his birth, the dragon stirred up King Herod to pour out the blood of countless innocents, in his rage at our Savior. When Jesus was a tender twelve-year-old, the Enemy strove to confuse him with the obfuscations of the subtle scribes, but was utterly overcome by the brilliant wisdom of our young Lord. Then, when he was baptized and anointed for his ministry, he came down himself and hurled at him every lie and temptation he could muster, but all to no avail. And ever after that, he fought against him in every way possible: hordes of demons laid hold upon the people, showing in a last frenzy of desperation how firm was their grip on mankind; but whenever they saw Jesus, they could only cry out in terror, and leave their human habitations. Satan strove to overcome our Champion by force, seeking to have him stoned or else thrown from a cliff (Luke 4:28-29; John 8:59); he sought to turn him aside by wiles, casting before him false and fawning crowds of admirers to lead him astray, only Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew from the beginning what was in the heart of man (John 2:23-25); and he even sought to confute him by his own chosen and beloved apostles, whispering in Peter's ear that our Lord ought not to go to the cross, hearing which, the Savior smelled Satan and rebuked him openly (Mat. 16:21-23).
But then, when all of these stratagems failed, and Satan saw that his foe was overcoming in every way, he conscripted the greatest army of evil in all of history, and enlisted into his services every power on the earth. He gathered together Jewish kings and Roman governors, the Sanhedrin and the soldiers, the fickle mobs of people, and even Judas, one of the twelve, and set them all to work upon his last great offensive campaign. Only eleven in all the world, plus a handful of weeping women (Mat. 27:55-56; Luke 23:27-28), could he not wrest to his purposes, and so he terrified and scattered them, desiring to sift them as wheat (Luke 22:31-32), and to drive them to cowardly flight (Mat. 26:31) and base denials of the only Savior (Mat. 26:69-75) in their terror at all his dark forces. And so Jesus was left alone, before all the evil the world had ever seen, and the last great battle began.
But how strangely did Jesus proceed! He gave up his back to the smiters, he did not resist, there was in his mouth no complaint nor guile. Being bruised and broken, he did not return evil for evil, but groaned in his spirit and only said this, â€œFather, forgive them!â€ (Luke 23:34). Upon so yielding a victim did all the forces of wickedness descend, they gnashed upon him with their death-glutting fangs, all the fury of the ages they took occasion to spew forth at this meek Lamb, and the battle seemed to be theirs indeed. Friday ended, and the powers of darkness were so great that they even blackened the very sun in the sky (Mat. 27:45).
What could this mean? Had our promised Champion, our second Adam, also been defeated by the foe? But no, Sunday came, and then they all knew, and terror seized them, and a trembling that has not yet been stilled (James 2:19). If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8); but they were blinded, and did not realize that when they bruised the heel of Christ's humanity, he was even then crushing their head, and destroying them forever. What they did not know was that all these evil forces were there at God's bidding, to do whatever his hand and his sovereign decree had before ordered to come about (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). God himself, through the agency of the wicked devils and all of fallen mankind, was putting his Son to death, in order to satisfy his own righteous demands, and win a perfect redemption for those he had foreknown from before the foundation of the world. Christ had won indeed, and he had won by putting our enemies' own weapons against them. He had hanged Haman upon his own gallows, he had beheaded the giant with his own sword. By the cross upon which Satan railed against him, he destroyed Satan, and put him to an open shame, because on that Cross he had nailed the broken Law that was opposed to us, and satisfied its demands (Col. 2:13-15). Satan's great weapon in his warfare for souls was the offended Law that he had enticed them to break; and when the curse of that broken Law was satisfied on the Cross, his weapon was wrested from his hands, and his final defeat was accomplished. Oh, what a love it was that our Savior showed us on that blessed tree!
He breathed his last, â€“
And the beat of the rain came hard and fast,
And the lightnings writhed in the sudden blast,
And the fierce winds cried.
Is he then dead?
But no â€“
For, â€œIn him was life,â€ the beloved said,
And then, â€œBefore Abrahamâ€
(So his own words rang out long ago),
But there he hangs â€“
And bloody his lifeless, ghastly form,
And the legions of darkness around him swarm,
And they gnash on him with their death-glutting fangs,
And he is dead.
But what is this â€“ what stir, what rush?
In the pounding rain,
The rocks are split, the very heavens blush,
The temple-veil drops powerless, rent in twain â€“
And look! from their graves the godly slain
Come out, to live again.
Yes, â€œIt is done!â€
And after the storm, a breath
Kisses to life, while the demons still howl on.
His death is the death of death.
The minions of hell, that shrieked in horrid glee,
Now lift their voices in hopeless moans,
And, terror-stricken, flee.
And Sunday dawns.
He fulfilled his promise to come down to us, no matter how far he had to descend, in order to bring us back to God
The sum of it all was this: Christ had promised to come down to us, no matter how far he had to descend, in order to bring us back up to God. We were humans, and so he condescended to take on human flesh. We were weak, despised, and opposed, so he descended to that estate as well. We were sinful so he took our sins upon himself. We were deserving of punishment, so he suffered it for us. We were slaves of the Serpent, so he submitted to the Serpent's cruel designs without resisting. But he had to go lower yet, much lower indeed â€“ for we were estranged from God! This is how far Christ descended in his pursuit of us, even to the breaking of the triune fellowship, even to exile from God. And now, after having descended to where we were indeed, he has risen again, to bring us back to God. Oh, what a love is the love of Christ!
6. After his perfect fulfillment of the promises, his love continues to work for the eternal salvation of his beloved in many ways
And so we have glimpsed just a little of the infinite, incomprehensible love of Christ, displayed in the greatest, climactic, and unrepeatable act of history, his coming down for thirty-three years in order to redeem us. Such love could be sounded out for all eternity and never exhausted; and yet, even after all that, the tale of his love is not yet complete; he is still loving us now, he is still working for our salvation, and for all eternity his love will be actively at work for our everlasting enjoyment.
He secured the promise of our eternal life and resurrection by the resurrection of his body as the firstfruits from the dead
After Jesus defeated the Serpent, accomplished a perfect righteousness, and perfectly satisfied divine justice through his great ordeal, climaxing with the cross; and after he thereby won for his Church a perfect redemption; he completed and sealed his victory by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Christ was God the Father's pledge to all the world that he was satisfied with what the Son had done for our redemption, that he accepted it and was perfectly and eternally pleased with him, and with us who are in him, for his sake. Without the physical resurrection of Christ's human body, we would be of all men most miserable, still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:16-19). But Christ has risen from the dead, as the firstfruits of all us who will likewise be granted a resurrection body of glory, so that we might dwell with our Savior forever, without decay (1 Cor. 15:20-26, 35-49). But this physical resurrection from the dead, as the firstfruits of all for whom he died, is also a great act of love and sacrifice, for by it the Son has consented to share fully in our human nature for all eternity, so that he might be more intimately and perfectly united to us forever. Jesus did not just take a human nature for a time, to accomplish our redemption, and then cast off that nature as a worn cloak when he had finished; but he bound himself forever to human flesh, so that he might be nearer to us in love, and dwell forever among us as one of us.
He ascended to the Father to give us immense and eternal gifts
Then, after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father so that he, like Joseph before him, might shower his brothers with gifts and provisions (see Gen. 37-50). â€œWhen he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, he gave gifts to menâ€ (Eph. 4:7-16; Psalm 68:18). In his love, Christ is still working for us, he is still pouring out his Spirit upon his Church, and by that Spirit, he is still gifting and equipping the Church with everything she needs in the time of her sojourn. Jesus' love is still active, and the works of his love continue even after his great work of redemption that he wrought when he walked upon the earth.
He continually intercedes for us
Now that Jesus has offered himself up as our spotless sacrifice, the just for the unjust (1 Pet. 3:18), once for all to provide righteousness, cleansing, and forgiveness for us, he lives forever, and is able to intercede for us always (Heb. 7:23-25). Christ died once and will never again have to make another sacrifice to be accepted by the Father in our behalf (away, then, with the blasphemous lies of the â€œmassâ€ of the papists!); he no longer stands ministering and offering up sacrifices, but has sat down at the right hand of the Father once for all (Heb. 10:10-14). Now, he constantly intercedes, and ceaselessly provides us with bold access to the Holy of Holies (Heb. 4:14-16). His flesh has been torn, as the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and we now have direct access to the throne room of God (Heb. 10:19-22). Whenever our hearts accuse us, or Satan would make us afraid with the greatness of our sins, we may fly there directly and look upon Christ interceding for us, pointing to his wounds and saying, â€œYes, Father, this child has sinned and deserves your wrath; but it was for him that I suffered, and are you not satisfied? Is my sacrifice not enough?â€. And what will the Father respond to his beloved Son but, â€œYes, I am satisfied, and this child I accept as a perfectly righteous son; I will not terrify him, but love and help and sustain him in all his trials for your sakeâ€.
He faithfully reigns over and protects us
When Jesus ascended to the throne room of the Father to intercede for his flock, he also sat down upon the throne of David (Acts 2:32-36); and as David, he shepherds his people, and protects them from all their enemies, and reigns over them. Do you have enemies surrounding you, have they set themselves against you? But Christ loves you, his love is still active and still reigns, and you may cry out to him, â€œO Jesus, my King, far be it from you to leave me to my enemies! I am your subject, a citizen of your Kingdom, and it is the right of a citizen to seek protection from his King!â€. Will Jesus not be moved by such pleas, will he not reassure you and fight for you and promise that you will never be overcome, no, not even if you must overcome as he overcame, by not resisting evil but instead giving up your body to be broken? And what if you are oppressed by the strength of your sin? May you not say, â€œLord Jesus, my King, this sin, this evil, is warring in my heart, it would despise your work of love, it mocks at your kingship! Will you not smite it with your scepter of righteousness, will you not break its power in my poor, helpless heart?â€. Jesus is your King, his love is still at work for your good, he will hear and answer.
He never ceases to teach, guide, and strengthen us
Although Jesus left his Church for a time, after he had wrought redemption in his accomplishment of love upon this earth, he promised his disciples that it was better for them if he went away, that he would never really leave them but would join himself to them in an even nearer and more intimate way; which he did in fact do when he sent his Spirit to dwell in our hearts (John 16:7). Jesus dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17), he is with us to the end of the age (Mat. 28:20), he will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), but is always present when we gather together in his name (Mat. 18:20), and will always continue to teach us the truth by the anointing of his Spirit (1 John 2:20), and guide and strengthen us for whatever labor we have before us. His love is still active, still working, and will never fail us until the very end of our sojourn through the wilderness of this life.
7. Throughout eternity, the love of Christ will still be effectively working for the perfect blessedness of his beloved
And finally, as we have seen that Christ's love for his Church drove him to great and unspeakable labors, beginning before the world began and continuing on through creation, the Fall, the entire time of his people's youth and immaturity, and climactically in his ministry on earth and his suffering, death, and resurrection; and even as we have seen that his love continues to work for us in many mighty ways after his resurrection; so we may be certain that his love will continue working for us forevermore, for all eternity, bringing immense and ever-increasing pleasure to us in the new heavens and the new earth, time without end. Forever Jesus will be Immanuel, God with us, the One in whom we may meet and walk and talk with, and come to know, the most blessed God. There will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem, because Christ will be there, fully revealing God to us. There will be no sun, because he will be lightening us all with the glory of God. Forever he will show us more and more of the infinite glories of the godhead, and forever our delight in and knowledge of and fellowship with God will increase, because the love of Jesus, which was before all time began, will continue throughout the endless ages (Rev. 21-22).