March 2009 - Vol. 28

Christ’s Humility and Victory continued, by Steve Clark

The path of obedience
But the nub of the temptation for Christ was the same as for Adam and Eve. Would he take the path of obedience? Would he follow the instructions of God, trusting God to bring him where he wanted him to be? Or would he reach out and exalt himself, making use of the power and position God gave him but not in God's way?

Christ won his initial combat with Satan. But it was only the first round. As the Gospel of Luke tells us, "When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him unti1 an opportune time" (Luke 4:13). The account we describe as the temptation of Christ only reveals in a more vivid way the struggle Christ was undergoing all during his public ministry.

Further temptations from Satan are described at those points where Christ decides to turn away from establishing a messianic kingdom of earthly glory and takes instead the path that would lead to the cross (Matthew 16:23, Luke 22:53, John 12:31-32; 14:30).

Victory through humility
The path Christ took could be summed up in his own words: "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11). To translate the saying into more literal English, "Everyone who raises himself will be lowered, and he who lowers himself will be raised."

This principle was applied to Christ's death and resurrection in the Philippians 2 passage that we considered at the beginning of the previous chapter. The New Adam, the Son of God, humbled himself in obedience to the point of death. This self-humbling, this self-lowering, resulted in an exaltation, a rising. Because "he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8-11).

In Hebrew idiom the word “lowering” or “going down” can refer to defeat, just as "exaltation" or "going up" can refer to victory. Christ's death on the cross was a going down to go up. It was a defeat that resulted in victory, a falling in battle that resulted in rising in triumph. Christ's path followed his own paradoxical instruction: the way to go up is to go down. It had to, in order to overcome the fallenness of this world.

Christ defeated sin, Satan, and death 
Here we are going to look at Christ's victory over the enemies of the human race, a victory that was accomplished through lowering himself or humbling himself. The chief enemy of the human race is sin. Christ defeated sin definitively in his own person by keeping the commandments to the end, at the cost of his own life. He did so through the humility of obedience and service. He defeated sin, in other words, by never sinning. 

Yet as most if not all of us experience, there is more to sin than simply some action we do or do not do. There seems to be a power behind sin, a power that makes it difficult not to act disobediently and transgress God's commandments. Externally, as Scripture tells us, that power comes from Satan and "this world," this place of exile, this house we live in that makes it hard for us to serve God. Internally, that power is the weakness of the flesh that makes us prey to death. Together these determine much of what happens to the fallen human race and produce the pattern of sin we have already observed.

Christ defeated sin itself, but he also defeated those spiritual forces that hold human beings enslaved to sin. He defeated Satan and death in his own person and so put himself in the position to defeat Satan and death by freeing other human beings from sin. He won this victory by following the paradoxical principle of going down to go up. Christ humbled himself, let himself be put down in defeat, to win the victory over the main enemies of the human race. He let himself lose to Satan in order to win over him. He let himself be put to death in order to defeat death. 

This is a chapter about the victory of Christ – on the cross itself. It concerns the way his humility led to spiritual victory because it led to the action of God on his behalf. To gain insight into the paradox of Christ's statement about going down to go up, we must insert "by God" into it. "Everyone who raises himself will be lowered by God, and everyone who lowers himself will be raised by God." To state it more generally, the key to spiritual victory over the fallenness of this world is the action of God, and the way to bring about that action is submission to God and his plan.

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[This article is excerpted from the book Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, copyright © 1992 by Stephen B. Clark, published by Servant Books.] 

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