Wednesday, May 5, 2010

but we do see Jesus

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

Though the author of the epistle to the Hebrews briefly departs from the primary theme to expound upon redeemed humanity's role in "the world to come," we return to the main point by way of an interjection that is always relevant: "But [...] Jesus" (Hebrews 2:5, 9). The previous thought segues into this by linking Jesus with humanity, as part of humanity, and by portraying Him as our exemplar. Moreover, Jesus is seen, by God's "grace," as a sacrifice which is, as the Creed declares, "for our sake and for our salvation." This reality holds since He partakes of death on our behalf, in His perfect humanity and through the power of His divinity, and He offers Himself without partiality in regards to application. In His humanity, the eternally divine Person of Christ is neither diminished nor lessened, and in His act of great condescension wherein He becomes our substitute, Jesus is "crowned with glory and honor." Christ's perfect humility and obedience enables Him to reenter the position of exaltation that He shares among the Trinity, being Himself the eternal and divine Son. Therefore, not only is Jesus "better than the angels" by virtue of His eternal nature as Son (as we saw inculcated throughout Hebrews 1), but He is also greater as the Incarnate Word, wherein He voluntarily became "for a little while lower than the angels" for the redemption of humankind.
If there is but one thing that resonates in your mind and heart as you read this, may it be that Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord, "bec[ame] a servant for the salvation of the world" (Origen, Commentary on John 1.231, as quoted in Behr 2006:35). Jesus served by the offering of His body; as the great "kenosis" hymn in Philippians 2 notes, Jesus "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8). After declaring this beautiful and powerful truth, Paul continues that "for this reason God has highly exalted [Jesus]," and thus is consistent with the thought conveyed here by the writer of Hebrews, where in this epistle we find revealed that "because of the suffering of death," Jesus was "crowned with glory and honor" (2:9; Hebrews 2:9). Perhaps here it will be well for us to pause - sometimes it is easy to grow so accustomed to hearing about Jesus' death that I feel we inadvertently overlook the remarkableness of this claim: the suffering and death of Jesus resulted in His coronation.
When we view the exemplification of God's love toward humanity through the Passion of the crucified Lord, it causes me to question how we can every rightly apply the term 'king' to anyone other than Jesus Christ. For who but He has entered their kingship by suffering and death performed on behalf of, not only another sole individual, but on behalf of the entirety of humankind? As we discussed previously, the type of reign that Christ demonstrated is one that comes under others by way of service, and greatness in His kingdom comes by being a servant. If we desire to love others as God does, then demonstrations of love on our behalf (by God's grace and strength) ought to mirror His demonstration of love toward all of humanity by the giving of Himself. Moreover, we should not attempt to bear in mind the "worthiness" of the recipient of our love, for as Welsh preacher Gwilym Hiraethog (William Rees) captures in the following hymn, God tenderly embraces us in the midst of our guilt and unworthiness as we encounter Christ through the cross:

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God's mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love. (Here Is Love, v. 2)

So, "God," through the Passion of our Lord, "demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). As St. John writes, "By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9). For, as Hebrews mentions, "Jesus [...] taste[d] death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9). And in that He tasted death, with His life never departing from Him, not only did He taste death for us, but He offers the transforming power of the life He lives now (and evermore).
As we further consider this verse in Hebrews we may ask, "What is the right response to these truths?" Again we turn to Philippians and encounter a fitting exhortation that delineates our orthopraxy in this regard:

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who [...] emptied Himself" (Philippians 2:3-7)

That is, according to this passage, it is the Incarnation and death (and resurrection) of Christ that supplies the substance for our reason (and ability) to act toward others with "humility of mind." Christ, through His example of suffering and death, compels us to love humanity in accordance with His Person and work, which is characterized by the emptying (kenosis) of oneself (or, one's self?) for the purpose of servitude in obedience to God's will. If this attribute of Christ is in us, and indeed, if Christ Himself is in us, the manifestation will necessarily be loving others to the point of suffering, or even to the point of death.
Can we honestly say that this is the chief attribute that distinguishes Christians in the world today? Can we honestly say that this is the chief attribute that distinguishes ourselves as followers and servants of Christ? I fear for myself that the answer is often 'no.' If such is the case, am I (and are we) truly revealing the crucified Lord and humble King to those who do not know Him? Perhaps even more frightening to consider is what we actually are revealing, along with the resultant negative perception we invite in regards to the name of Christ, when we refuse to act in a manner that concords with Jesus' suffering and death. If we recognize the need for transformation in our own bodies and souls, may we return to the cross and contemplate its meaning. For, as John Behr remarks, "The Passion remains as the locus for contemplating the transforming power of God, the 'God revealed through the Cross'" (Behr 2006:35).

Behr, John. (2006). The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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