Ephesians 4: 8-10
This is why it says:
‘When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.’
(What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Yesterday we looked at how the ascension of Christ following His resurrection back to the Father's right hand was the place of supreme victory and authority from which He then dispensed empowered gifts to the church with the sending of the Holy Spirit.
However, prior to his ascent, it's important for us to grasp, as best we can, the degree of His descent. Today we'll look at some scriptures that speak of what Jesus endured on our behalf.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1: 1-3)
Jesus is the eternal, uncreated, pre-existent Son of God who had only ever known the perfection and glory of Heaven. As one contemporary writer makes clear:
"The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the fact that Jesus is God. He is not a god. He is not less than God. He is not created by God. He is not kind of like God. He is not just a good man. Jesus is the God-man. Jesus actually is God. This means that Jesus shares the glory of the one YHWH God on the first page of the Bible." (Alex Early)
The Apostle Paul expressed it elsewhere like this: "....all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1: 15-17)
Yet, Jesus chose to say 'yes' in total obedience to the Father. He stepped down from His heavenly throne and took the nature and form of a human, choosing not to exercise His divinity. Being implanted in a virgin's womb, He made Himself totally vulnerable and dependent. The One who had never experienced even the presence of anything impure or unholy was born into a rebellious creation where he lived among sinful humanity.
"...have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness." (Phil 2: 5-7)
It is difficult to find an analogy that even comes close to describing the debasement and descent that Jesus experienced. Some have tried to compare it to a human becoming an ant. However, this analogy falls short in that both humans and ants are created and are part of fallen creation, whereas Jesus is the Creator of all things and had never experienced anything except heavenly perfection.
Andrew Wilson says this: "No truth ever revealed, no truth, is more jarring than the fact that the Word, the pre-existent Son of God, became human and set up the tent of his dwelling among people. There are lots of important truths in the gospel, but they all depend on this one. The cross made possible freedom from sin, and the resurrection secured it, but the writing was on the wall the day Mary got pregnant. It is not exaggeration to say that the incarnation -God becoming flesh - is the most scandalous teaching anyone has ever given. More scandalously, it is completely true."
Jesus himself was fully aware of where He had come from and where He would one day return. He spoke about himself as descending and then ascending in these terms:
"No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man." (John 3: 13)
"I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6: 38)
"Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!" (John 6: 62)
Yet, even as a man, His power was revealed as His authority kept leaking out over disorder in nature, disease and demons. He spoke to storms and they were stilled, He touched the sick and they were made whole, He commanded evil spirits and they had to obey and flee. Even His words revealed something of His concealed divinity:
"The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority..." (Mark 1: 22)
"...I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." (Luke 5: 24)
As if becoming a man wasn't enough, Jesus descended even further. The Bible tells us that He became unrecognisable as a man, such was the violence and scourging He endured:
"Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness..." (Isaiah 52: 14)
Beaten and bloodied, He hung naked on a cross, the ultimate public humiliation and sign of one who was cursed by God:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’" (Gal 3: 13)
He then descended even further still, in the separation from His Father, as the sins of humanity were laid upon Him:
"From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)." (Matt 27: 45-46)
The darkness over the land mirrored the unbearable spiritual abandonment He experienced as the full weight of our sin was laid upon Him. As Jesus hung on the cross, the hordes of Hell gathered around Him mocking, sneering, celebrating their apparent victory as Jesus cried out: "It is finished." (John 19: 30) The Giver of life, the One who is life, descended into death.
Tomorrow we'll think about the absolute victory that Jesus accomplished as He triumphed over Satan, sin and death, but before we move on too quickly, it's important that we pause for a few moments to consider and reflect upon just what Jesus suffered and endured for each one of us. He didn't have to, He chose to. Why? Max Lucado explains:
"It wasn’t right that spikes pierced the hands that formed the earth. And it wasn’t right that the Son of God was forced to hear the silence of God.
It wasn’t right, but it happened.
For while Jesus was on the cross, God sat on his hands. He turned his back. He ignored the screams of the innocent.
He sat in silence while the sins of the world were placed upon his Son. And he did nothing while a cry a million times bloodier than John’s echoed in the black sky: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Was it right? No.
Was it fair? No.
Was it love? Yes."
Or as the words of this great hymn written in the 18th century by Charles Wesley marvelled:
And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?