Deanna J. Reynolds M.D. (ret.) – January 2015 – Corpus Christi, Texas
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Readings: John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 7:16, 28; 8:28-29; 12:49-50; 14:10, 24; 15:5; Romans chapters 6-8
[For the purposes of focusing on Jesus’ human nature instead of his divine indwelling, lower case letters will be used for the pertinent pronouns. Scripture references are from the 2011 NIV.]
When he walked the earth as a man, Jesus demonstrated and spoke on multiple occasions that he could say nothing of himself, but could say only what the Father was saying – that he could do nothing of himself, but could do only what the Father was doing. This was Jesus’ basic life principle, simply summarized as denial of the dominance of his natural self in complete surrender to God. Jesus knew that God was all-in-all, and by absolute submission of his natural self to the Father he ministered as a pure vessel of the divine life.
Jesus’ self-denial and total dependence on the Father is of profound significance, but many miss it while focused on his divinity. In order to realize the deep impact of Jesus having lived his earthly life this way, we must gain greater understanding of the significance of his humanity. Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the Son of Man, and it may indeed have been in order that we too may appreciate and apply this precious principle to ourselves.
Our natural man, born of Adam, has a sinful nature, meaning that sinning occurs naturally to us just as flying comes naturally to birds and purring comes naturally to cats. Sinning is not something we intentionally teach our children, but something they inherently do; submission/obedience, on the other hand, does not come naturally to them, but is something they must be taught. Despite our desire to obey and please God, we produce sin; we try to suppress it, but our best efforts cannot ever eradicate it. There is no one righteous, not even one… there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10b, 12b). If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Of course, the entire Old Testament testifies book upon book that man is in absolute need of a savior, otherwise unable to live holy as God is holy, made in the image of God Himself.
The New Testament brings fulfillment of the law by the righteous life of the last Adam, the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The good news is that by His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ provides not only forgiveness of our sins, but eradication of the producer of our sins, our sinful nature. [J]ust as the [first Adam’s] trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also [the last Adam’s] righteous act resulted in justification for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
The apostle Paul expounded on this in the next three chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. Chapter six’s marvelous message is that we have been crucified with Christ and thus are actually dead to sin in Him; now it is incumbent upon us to reckon ourselves dead to it and alive to God in Christ! Chapter seven explains that in Christ we are also delivered from the ongoing demands of the law, for Christ Himself fulfills them.
As explained earlier in Romans, God brought the law to expose our sin to us – to prove to us our utter inability to please Him of our own. Paul described his own inability to obey God’s law, and lamented I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:18, 24).
Praise God, the answer to his question is a Person, the man-God Jesus Christ. What God demands of us, to be holy as He is holy, to be perfect as He is perfect, He provides for us in Christ! The glorious eighth chapter of Romans then describes life submitted to and empowered by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.
Romans chapters six through eight thus reveal and detail this blessed road to deliverance: our sinful nature inherited from Adam is overcome as we fully recognize our sin, submit to God, and receive the humbling of our natural man; this entails perpetually denying self and trusting the indwelling Holy Spirit to act in accordance with His will through our flesh.
Now, that is exactly what our sinless Savior did when he walked the earth as a man. A descendant of Adam via his mother Mary, Jesus was made like his brothers fully human in every way (Hebrews 2:17, margin). This means that Jesus had the same natural man in him that we have in us, the same nature subject to sin and “body that is subject to death” as Paul described above.
Of course, Jesus had also been fathered by God the Holy Spirit; as he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), his Father’s calling on his life was progressively revealed and apprehended. He came to know God intimately and believe Him in all circumstances as he walked daily in the Spirit.
Although Jesus had the same nature subject to sin as we do, he did not sin. It is very important to apprehend that this was not because of his divinity! Jesus did not sin while he lived in the flesh because he always chose to humble his natural man by denying self and surrendering all to the Lord, trusting the indwelling Holy Spirit both to will and to act.
This is how Jesus’ sinless life and crucifixion served as a propitiation to God for our sins! Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law as a man, fully human in every way (Hebrews 2:17). Yes, by doing this God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, margin).
It was Jesus’ steadfast self-denial and absolute God-reliance that overcame the nature subject to sin that his flesh had inherited from Adam. Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Of course, God the Father had destined Jesus to become the Christ and do this before time began (recall “Christ” means “Anointed One”); upon receiving the anointing, God the Holy Spirit continuously empowered Jesus to do so. It was for the last Adam to overcome by grace through faith in the Lord and become a life-giving spirit for his brothers and sisters; he had been made like them, fully human in every way (see 1Cor. 15:45; Heb.2:11), yet he did not sin.
We will now ponder some of the important Scriptures emphasizing Jesus’ humanity that illustrate his humbling/self-denial and complete dependence on the Lord.
We pray, Father, that You enlighten the eyes of our hearts and grant us a spirit of wisdom and revelation to glean deeper understanding of how our Lord did this in His flesh so that we may follow Him, walking in accordance with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to glorify You through Christ our Savior. Amen.
- Jesus’ humbling through circumstances brought by God is prominent throughout the gospels. We will only note here that his humbling on earth began in his mother’s womb and was conspicuous at birth: his young mother Mary suffered the disgrace of being pregnant when unwed (Luke 1:27, 34), Jesus was born to poor parents (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8), and slept as a newborn in a feeding trough for cattle and horses (Luke 2:7).
- Luke records that when Jesus was a twelve year old boy, his parents found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (2:46) instead of traveling with the extended family and friends back to Nazareth after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem. We see from this single boyhood account that our Lord actively pursued and learned God’s word. He highly valued and prioritized it. He listened, and asked questions of those knowledgeable of the Scriptures. He knew by age twelve that God was his Father: “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (v. 49, margin).
- After His baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” …The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here….” Jesus answered, “It is said…” (Luke 4:1-4, 9, 12). In these recorded temptations of Jesus, it is important to understand that he was tempted to doubt God’s calling on his life, and act of his natural man instead of trusting in, waiting for, and relying on God to act. Jesus knew and continued to believe that God loved him, and had called and anointed him, despite the provocation to believe that the dire circumstances he was suffering meant otherwise! He also resisted the temptation to prove himself / react by his natural man. Jesus knew that he was being sustained by God’s word, and believed that God would provide the literal food for his body in due time. Jesus did not react immediately to these severe provocations in accordance with his natural self; instead, he denied himself, and waited to respond in accordance with the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus discerned God’s will in every circumstance; through these temptations he learned to differentiate the strong immediate desires of his outer natural man from the subtle subdued movement of the Holy Spirit deep within him. He was patient in spite of his prolonged physical and mental suffering, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he persevered.
- Luke 6:12-13 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles. Jesus sought God for long periods of time (note that this instance extended from day through the entire night). It was God, of course, who designated which disciples were to be the apostles, and that there were to be twelve of them. Jesus withdrew himself to a quiet mountainside, what he described to his disciples as a “secret place” (see Matt. 6:6). Beholding the land below and the heavenly expanse above him, Jesus communed with his Father, seeking His will, discerning it over the course of many delightful hours alone with Him. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10). Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and knowledge of God’s love for him was the foundation and cornerstone of his very life; this cannot be overstated!
- You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:24b-27). …Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. (Luke 12:32-33a). Fending for ourselves and our desire to possess are results of the Fall, and are opposite of God’s magnificent design. See that Jesus did not provide for himself or his disciples in any worldly way. This is because he knew that it was God’s responsibility to provide all the needs necessary to fulfill his calling (see Gen.22:1-19 especially v.14). Moving the hearts of people was God’s usual means of providing the needs of His Christ and the apostles, but the Scriptures illustrate that He also used angels, natural means such as earthquakes, and supernatural means as with the feedings of the five and four thousand. God delights to do such unusual things for every dearly beloved child of His, if only they would relinquish control and worldly mindsets and let Him do so! On a humorous note, Luke records that many women helped to support Jesus out of their own means, including Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household (8:1-3).
- Hebrews 5:7-9 records multiple pertinent truths requiring more detailed consideration than the preceding Scriptures. This particular Scripture is “solid food” for the mature, not “milk” for infants (see Heb. 5:13-14). During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. This is so very, very rich! We will expound on only four of the profound points here, starting with verse 9 and working backwards:
1) We see that Jesus had to be made perfect, therefore he was not born perfect, despite having been fathered by God the Holy Spirit. This is yet another Scripture disclosing that Jesus was born imperfect just like us, inherited from Adam via his mother Mary. Recall from Luke 2:52 that Jesus grew… in favor with God. By His design, God’s perfection of all His children is a process – it occurs over time. Daniel 11:35 furthermore indicates that our stumbling is not only expected but purposeful: Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end…. Wise parents allow their children to make some mistakes for good reasons often not disclosed to the children at the time; these parents do so because God our Father does this with us. God is with us in our honest mistakes.
2) Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered even though he was God’s Son. Obedience did not come naturally to Jesus; he had to learn it just as all sons of Adam do. This crucial verse also emphasizes that suffering is God’s pathway for learning obedience. Our natural selves suffer when we are humbled or denied; we must learn obedience because we naturally center our lives on ourselves and not God or each other. Numerous Scriptures expound on the necessity of Christian suffering, our pathway to glory; given our context, we will only include these:
a) Hebrews 2:10-11: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God… should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
b) 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
c) Mark 8:31a, 34: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law…. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man” as he taught his fellow men the necessity of suffering / denying self in order to please God. Christian suffering includes rejection by religious elders and teachers fallen into worldly mindsets who distort the gospel of God’s grace. The New Testament has much to say about this critical matter since spiritual conflict arises everywhere Christ is manifest: Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. (Luke 12:51). The intensity of the conflict experienced by each believer is directly proportional to the degree to which the natural man is denied in order that God may be manifest in His creature. The principle applies both to the outer spiritual conflict we encounter ministering to wayward people (believers and unbelievers alike), and to the inner spiritual conflict all believers face between our renewed true spiritual selves in Christ and our already crucified sinful nature trying to regain control. In both places, of course, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12). Praise God that both our outer and inner battles are the Lord’s: as Christians relinquish control to God, rest from our natural efforts, and patiently persevere, the Holy Spirit makes real in our lives today the victory that Christ Jesus accomplished on our behalf two millennia ago. Christ our Resurrection and our Life thus manifests in and through us as we endure patiently and overcome all our God-brought trials and tribulations in His energy and strength, in joyous childlike dependence on Him.
3) Jesus was heard because of his reverent submission. Jesus’ complete submission to God brought forth from the throne the answers to his prayers. Absolute submission is intimately related to absolute self-denial; this is complete weakness of self, which is, actually, effectual death of self. Jesus’ absolute submission to God brought literal death by crucifixion of his natural self and all of us along with him who were baptized into his death. This was also what Jesus was praying for, in order that he may be in us and that he would have a spotless bride for eternity (see John 17:20-26, esp. v.24, 26; Eph 5:25b-27). Jesus accomplished this in large part because he truly knew and received the Father’s love for him, and love never fails (1Corinthians 13:8a). All our sufferings and trials ultimately come from our loving Father’s sovereign hand; He brings or allows them because He loves us beyond our wildest imaginations and wants to liberate us from the captivity of the Fall; He has predestined us to live with Him in glory! (see Romans 8:29-30)
4) Jesus prayed and petitioned the Father with fervent cries and tears. Jesus could teach effectual prayer as one with authority because God had wrought deep experiential knowledge of it into him. We note that Jesus delivered all his messages with authority for he was also a prophet. A prophet is a man in whom God has wrought distinct messages through such trials/suffering that he himself embodies the divine messages – the prophet himself is the messages delivered of the Lord.
- Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17). It was necessary for Jesus to be baptized by John, for such immersion into water denotes death to the natural man, and rising from the water embodies resurrection into Life. The last Adam fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized because in doing so he voluntarily took the ground of death and resurrection on our behalf. Jesus’ baptism signified his life principle of denying the dominance of his natural self in complete subjugation to God, and it was necessary that he take this stand prior to commencing his earthly ministry.
Jesus’ baptism was also his public identification with us, whose sins and sin nature he bore, and was also public confirmation that he was God’s Son, with whom God was well-pleased. Note that Jesus saw heaven opened and God’s Spirit lighting on him, and heard his heavenly Father’s love for him; how affirming this must have been, and how important that it would have been fresh in his mind while suffering his intense season of temptations in the wilderness. Certainly the temptations immediately followed his baptism because Jesus had just taken this momentous stand against the authority of the natural man in acknowledgement of the supremacy of God.
Having contemplated the importance of Jesus’ humbling/self-denial and utter reliance upon God during his earthly life, we return to the sixth chapter of Book of Romans to apply this crucial principle of baptism to ourselves. The apostle Paul inquires as to our understanding of the prime significance of our baptism in relation to the preeminent three days of world history, and then expounds upon it: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:3-7).
It is key that we grasp this mind-boggling truth: our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with. We were not on a cross beside him as both thieves were, but we were all there with Him on His cross. God accomplished this in order to eradicate our sinful nature, that which produces sin. In doing so, Christ became the last Adam (such mysteries in this work of God!). We were all then buried with Him in baptism in order that we may be united with him in a resurrection like his. In His resurrection, Christ became the first heavenly man (see 1 Cor. 15:48-49).
Given that God is pleased and glorified as the righteous live by faith, it is now incumbent upon us to know this, believe this, and walk it out in accordance with the Holy Spirit. All three steps are necessary for us: we must first know it, then we must truly believe it, and then we must do it, and we surely cannot do it of our own volition or power. The degree to which believers apprehend that we have been crucified with Christ and then daily deny ourselves, submit to God, and depend on Him is the degree to which the resurrected and ascended Lord is free to live His overcoming Life through us.
Although we were once-for-all crucified with Christ at Calvary, all believers who truly seek to serve and follow Christ must also deny daily the lies of our already crucified selves and walk in the power of His resurrection. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. (John 12:24-26a). God manifests Himself in His children in direct proportion to the degree that we sons of Adam relinquish the supremacy of our natural selves and submit to Him moment by moment. Praise God that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, for we come to see that just as Jesus could do nothing of himself, of ourselves we can do nothing – Christ alone is our life!
As we have gleaned from the Scriptures describing Jesus’ human sufferings, tribulations occur because our natural selves will not relinquish the supremacy to God. Jesus lamented that this ministry of self-denial is distressing to the flesh: I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. (Luke 12:49-51). This profound Scripture reveals that Jesus’ natural man was constrained as he denied himself, just as ours are constrained as we daily deny our selves. Of course, this is how our High Priest can sympathize with us in our sufferings.
This ministry of death and resurrection is clearly infinitely beyond what the natural man can withstand or accomplish, but then this is the point: just as God called and equipped Jesus to deny his natural self and endure such ministry, those whom God calls to follow Christ He also equips through Christ to deny our natural selves and endure such ministry.
This glorious gospel is a gospel of grace, from beginning to end! As the apostle Paul admonished the Galatians, our sanctification is every bit as dependent on God’s grace as our initial salvation: Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:3). God the Father sent God the Son to secure the victory over our sin nature nearly two thousand years ago, and God the Holy Spirit now empowers us to overcome the lie of our (already crucified!) sin nature every blessed day of our sanctification. The battle is the Lord’s; ours is the good fight of faith (see 1Sam. 17:47; 1Tim. 6:12).
The division that Christ brings everywhere that He goes is the progressive division between our old outer natural man and our inner spiritual man united with the Lord: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit… (Hebrews 4:12); For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17, margin). The lies of our already crucified outer man / flesh / soul nature must be resisted by the powerful sword of God’s word, exactly as Jesus did when he was so tempted: resist the devil, and he will flee (James 4:7).
The division that Christ brings everywhere He goes is also the outward conflict between wayward people (believers and unbelievers alike) and His submitted servants: From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other… (Luke 12:52). One member of the Body of Christ momentarily submitted to the Lord ministers Christ to another who is momentarily resisting Him, yet at a different time, the latter may be found ministering Christ to the former. Whether Christ ministers Himself through us to a wayward believer or to a wayward future brother or sister, we patiently endure the constraint by the power of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus did in his flesh. We overcome as we trust and behold Christ, not the visible and temporary fallen situation before us, and we rejoice in the astonishing privilege of being partakers of His Life.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33). To him who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on His throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches! (Revelation 3:21-22). Praise God! Such astounding promises we have in Christ Jesus!
We come to appreciate that baptism signifies God’s redemptive principle of death and resurrection. This principle was the foundation of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and as such is the origin of all true ministry. Genuine ministers of Christ must suffer by denying self unceasingly; this renders us progressively malleable for ministering His incomparably great resurrection power from glory to glory. The resurrected Lord is exalted as He ministers Life through His holy people perfected by grace through faith in Him, and not in any way of ourselves. Hallelujah! To the Lord God Almighty be all glory now and forever more! Amen.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us,
but life is at work in you.
2 Corinthians 4:10-12