Christ and His Righteousness—
5. God Manifest In the Flesh
No words could more plainly show that Christ was both God and man. Originally only Divine, He took upon Himself human nature and passed among men as only a common mortal, except at those times when His Divinity flashed through, as on the occasion of the cleansing of the temple or when His burning words of simple truth forced even His enemies to confess that “never man spake like this man.”
The humiliation which Christ voluntarily took upon Himself is best expressed by Paul to the Philippians. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being originally in the form of God, counted it not a thing to be grasped [that is, to be clung to] to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, becoming in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Phil. 2:5-8, Revised Version, marginal reading.
The above rendering makes this text much more plain than it is in the common version. The idea is that, although Christ was in the form of God, being “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person” (Heb. 1:3), having all the attributes of God, being the Ruler of the universe, and the One whom all Heaven delighted to honor, He did not think that any of these things were to be desired, so long as men were lost and without strength. He could not enjoy His glory while man was an outcast, without hope. So He emptied Himself, divested Himself of all His riches and His glory, and took upon Himself the nature of man, in order that He might redeem him. And so we may reconcile Christ’s unity with the Father with the statement, “My Father is greater than I.”
It is impossible for us to understand how Christ could, as God, humble Himself to the death of the cross, and it is worse than useless for us to speculate about it. All we can do is to accept the facts as they are presented in the Bible. If the reader finds it difficult to harmonize some of the statements in the Bible concerning the nature of Christ, let him remember that it would be impossible to express it in terms that would enable finite minds to grasp it fully. Just as the grafting of the Gentiles into the stock of Israel is contrary to nature, so much of the Divine economy is a paradox to human understanding.
Other scriptures that we will quote bring closer to us the fact of the humanity of Christ and what it means for us. We have already read that “the Word was made flesh,” and now we will read what Paul says concerning the nature of that flesh: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Rom. 8:3, 4.
A little thought will be sufficient to show anybody that if Christ took upon Himself the likeness of man in order that He might redeem man, it must have been sinful man that He was made like, for it is sinful man that He came to redeem. Death could have no power over a sinless man, as Adam was in Eden, and it could not have had any power over Christ, if the Lord had not laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Moreover, the fact that Christ took upon Himself the flesh, not of a sinless being, but of a sinful man, that is, that the flesh which He assumed had all the weaknesses and sinful tendencies to which fallen human nature is subject, is shown by the statement that He “was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” David had all the passions of human nature. He says of himself, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ps. 51:5.
The following statement in the book of Hebrews is very clear on this point:
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. [“For verily not of angels doth He take hold, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham.” Revised Version.] Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted. Heb. 2:16-18.
If He was made in all things like unto His brethren, then He must have suffered all the infirmities and been subject to all the temptations of His brethren. Two more texts that put this matter very forcibly will be sufficient evidence on this point. We first quote 2Cor. 5:21:
For He [God] hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
This is much stronger than the statement that He was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” He was made to be sin. Here is the same mystery as that the son of God should die. The spotless Lamb of God, who knew no sin, was made to be sin. Sinless, yet not only counted as a sinner but actually taking upon Himself sinful nature. He was made to be sin in order that we might be made righteousness. So Paul says to the Galatians that “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Gal. 4:4, 5. In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” “For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 2:18; 4:15, 16.
One more point and then we can learn the entire lesson that we should learn from the fact that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” How was it that Christ could be thus “compassed with infirmity” (Heb. 5:2) and still know no sin? Some may have thought, while reading thus far, that we were depreciating the character of Jesus by bringing Him down to the level of sinful man. On the contrary, we are simply exalting the “Divine power” of our blessed Saviour, who Himself voluntarily descended to the level of sinful man in order that He might exalt man to His own spotless purity, which He retained under the most adverse circumstances. His humanity only veiled His Divine nature, by which He was inseparably connected with the invisible God and which was more than able successfully to resist the weaknesses of the flesh. There was in His whole life a struggle. The flesh, moved upon by the enemy of all righteousness, would tend to sin, yet His Divine nature never for a moment harbored an evil desire nor did His Divine power for a moment waver. Having suffered in the flesh all that men can possibly suffer, He returned to the throne of the Father as spotless as when He left the courts of glory. When He lay in the tomb, under the power of death, “it was impossible that he should be holden of it,” because he “knew no sin.” [Acts 2:24; 2Cor. 5:21.]
But someone will say, “I don’t see any comfort in this for me. To be sure, I have an example, but I can’t follow it, for I haven’t the power that Christ had. He was God even while here on earth; I am but a man.” Yes, but you may have the same power that He had if you want it. He was “compassed with infirmity,” yet He “did no sin,” because of the Divine power constantly dwelling within Him. Now listen to the inspired words of the apostle Paul and learn what it is our privilege to have:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:14-19.
Who could ask for more? Christ, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, may dwell in our hearts so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. What a wonderful promise! He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmity.” That is, having suffered all that sinful flesh is heir to, He knows all about it and so closely does He identify Himself with His children that whatever presses upon them makes a like impression upon Him and He knows how much Divine power is necessary to resist it, and if we but sincerely desire to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” He is able and anxious to give to us strength “exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think.” All the power which Christ had dwelling in Him by nature, we may have dwelling in us by grace, for He freely bestows it upon us.
Then let the weary, feeble, sin-oppressed souls take courage. Let them “come boldly unto the throne of grace,” where they are sure to find grace to help in time of need, because that need is felt by our Saviour in the very time of need. He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmity.” If it were simply that He suffered eighteen hundred years ago, we might fear that He had forgotten some of the infirmity, but no, the very temptation that presses you touches Him. His wounds are ever fresh, and He ever lives to make intercession for you.
What wonderful possibilities there are for the Christian! To what heights of holiness he may attain! No matter how much Satan may war against him, assaulting him where the flesh is weakest, he may abide under the shadow of the Almighty and be filled with the fullness of God’s strength. The One stronger than Satan may dwell in his heart continually and so, looking at Satan’s assaults as from a strong fortress, he may say, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” [Phil. 4:13.]