For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.
Those are the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a pastor in Scotland in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Edinburgh in 1813, and what’s striking about his life (and that some still remember him today) is that he lived only twenty-nine years. He died of typhus fever in 1843.
Two years later, his friend and a fellow minister Andrew Bonar published Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, which in time came to be published in over a hundred English editions. In Memoir and Remains appears a letter M’Cheyne wrote to a friend:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and [rest] in His almighty arms . . .
Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh. (293)
Ten looks at Christ for every one look at self. I suspect M’Cheyne’s counsel was striking in his day. But now, some 180 years later, what are we to make of it, living in an age so saturated in, so dominated by the ruse of the almighty self?
Ten looks at Christ for every one look at self was a countercultural word in M’Cheyne’s day. And how much more so for us now? And what healing might there be for us in heeding his counsel? How impoverished are we for our subtle and overt fixations on and fascinations with self, dwelling in a generation that both nourishes the love of self in us and conditions us for greater and deeper attention to self than we otherwise might dare venture?
So I want to ask you to come with me on a journey. I invite you in these moments — as much as you’re able — to put self aside, and together let’s take ten looks at Jesus. In this first session, we’ll take five looks at him from eternity past to the cross, and then in the second session, from his resurrection to eternity future. And with each look, we’ll anchor our glance at his glory in at least one key biblical text and also a key theological term that seeks to capture some of the majesty we find in Christ. So, ten looks at Jesus.
Look #1: He delighted his Father before creation.
Not only did he exist before creation — with all its implications for his deity — but, as divine Son, he delighted his Father, as we’ll see. First, John 1:1–3:
In the beginning was the Word [that is, the divine Son, who would come as Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
“What was Christ doing for the endless ages of eternity past before there was time itself? He delighted his Father.”
Jesus — the divine Son, who would, in time, become man — existed in the beginning with God the Father. John says (1) he was with God (literally, “toward God,” as in face to face) and (2) he was himself God. Before anything was created, he was. “All things were made through him, and [if that’s not clear enough, then] without him was not anything made that was made.” The Word, the divine Son, was not made. He was not created. He himself is God — God’s own fellow and God’s own self.
Our key term for Look #1 is preexistence. The divine Son, the second person of the Trinity, who we now know as Jesus of Nazareth and as the Christ, preexisted his human life (and all creation as well). Which we see deeply embedded in various ways throughout the New Testament:
- First, he came. Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as ransom of many.” John 3:13: “The Son of Man descended from heaven.” Hebrews 10:5: “Christ came into the world.” 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
- Second, he was sent. Galatians 4:4: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.” The owner of the vineyard sent his Beloved Son (Mark 12:6).
- Third, he was given. John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 8:32: God the Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.”
So, fully God himself, Christ was given, he was sent, he came. And he preexisted not only his coming but the whole creation. So what was he doing for the endless ages of eternity past before there was time itself? He delighted his Father. And Proverbs 8:22–31 personifies God’s wisdom in such a way that for two thousand years Christians can’t help but see the preexistent Christ here. Divine wisdom speaks,
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth. . . .
When he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.
Divine wisdom rejoiced in God, and God delighted in his wisdom. Or, Son rejoiced in Father, and Father delighted in Son. And this delight of the Father in his Son, before creation ever was, helps to explain the amazing claim of Hebrews 1:1–2:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Did you catch that? The Father appointed the Son “heir of all things,” and then Hebrews adds “through whom also he created the world.” First, the Father, delighting in his Son, before creation, appoints him to be “heir of all things.” Then, with that appointment in view, God makes the world in order to fulfill his plan. Which means God made the world, and all its history, to give it as a gift to his Son.
“God made the world, and all its history, to give it as a gift to his Son.”
So, Look #1, the eternal Son delighted his Father before creation, and from that delight, the Father appointed to make a world and a story that would make much of his beloved Son, that would have him as its center and climax.
Look #2: He became man.
The preexistent Son — eternally begotten, not made — became man. So not only was he sent and given and came, but he became. John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The eternal Word, whom we heard about in John 1:1, “became flesh.” Meaning, he became man. He took on our flesh and blood, our humanity. 2 Corinthians 8:9: “Though he was rich [as God], he became poor [as man].”
But his becoming might pose a problem to our minds, depending on how we think about “becoming.” Does his becoming man mean that he ceases, somehow, to be God? Does he somehow empty himself of some of his deity, as if that were possible, so that he might become human? Do humanity and deity operate on the same level of reality, so to speak, as a zero-sum game?
Addition, Not Subtraction
Philippians 2:5–7 is the key text about his emptying:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, [being] in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [We’ll come back to verse 8 in a few minutes.]
What does it mean that he “emptied himself”? Three observations:
Note his deity. “In the form of God” coordinates with “equality with God.” He shared in the Godhead, as one divine person among others, and as God in his own right.
This emptying of himself related to prerogative, we might say, not divine power. He did not grasp or cling to divine rights that might have kept him from entering into the finitude and limitations of humanity, and our fallen world, and the suffering that would come to him by virtue of his being human and coming as a creature.
This emptying, then — as Paul clarifies in the next line — was a taking, not a losing. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So, in becoming man, he did not jettison his deity, as if that were even possible, but he took our humanity — not subtracting deity, but adding humanity to his person — and thus he became man as well as God. Without ceasing to be God, he added humanity. He became the God-man.
Our key word for Look #2 is incarnation. Which means the “in-fleshing” or putting on or the adding of human flesh, human nature, to his eternal divine person. He took on a human body. He was born. He “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” He grew, and grew tired. He got hungry and thirsty. He experienced physical weakness. He suffered. And as Colossians 2:9 says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
But humanity is not only body. It’s also soul. To be fully man, he took on our full humanity, both body and soul. He displayed human emotions: sorrow, compassion, anger, joy. He groaned. He was distressed and troubled. He wept. He prayed “with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). As John Calvin summed it up, Christ “has put on our feelings as well as our flesh.”
But a human soul means not only emotions, but also a human mind. He increased, as Luke 2:52 says, not only in stature but in wisdom. And how else, but with respect to a finite human mind, might Jesus say in Mark 13:32 about his second coming, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”? As God he knew all; as man he did not.
So too, we also can identify a human will in the God-man in addition to the divine will he shared with his Father with respect to his deity. So he can say in John 6:38, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
And then, when it mattered most, he chose with that human will to embrace the divine will, rather than the life-preserving impulse to which the human will is naturally given, when he said in Gethsemane, “My Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). (More on his human will to come.)
So, he became man, and so fully so that to the human eye and ear he was utterly, manifestly human. What a condescension, and what a dignifying of humanity as God’s crowning creature, that God himself would become one of us.
Look #3: He lived to his Father’s glory.
Here our key term is devotion. He devoted his human life on earth to his Father’s glory. At his birth, the angels announced, “Glory to God!” and at his death, a Roman centurion who stood by and saw him breathe his last, caught a glimpse of divine glory, and “praised God” (Luke 23:47).
Jesus consecrated his life to the honor and praise of his Father. Over and over again in the Gospels, the reported effect of his ministry is not that the crowds praised him but that they glorified God (Mark 2:12; Matthew 9:8; Luke 5:25–26). In fact, glorifying God is Matthew’s summary effect of all Jesus’s miracle-working:
The crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:31)
So the effect of his life was glory to his Father. But what about Jesus’s own intent? Jesus says in John 5:43 that he comes not in his own name, but his Father’s. And he sums up his life in John 8:49 by saying, “I honor my Father.” And his intent to glorify his Father gets even more explicit as he approaches the cross. Three times in his high priestly prayer the night before he died, he prays,
I glorified you on earth. (John 17:4)
I have manifested your name. (John 17:6)
I made known to them your name. (John 17:26)
His ministry of healing, his teaching, his patience, his disciple-making, all stemmed from his utter devotion to the glory and honor and praise of his Father. And this both led to, and flowed from, various daily habits of devotion which fed his human soul on his Father and shaped his mind and heart for the work his Father had given him to do.
One way to capture it, which is both manifestly true in Jesus’s life and applicable to ours, is that he devoted himself to his Father’s word (in Scripture), his Father’s ear (in prayer), and his Father’s body (in the fellowship of the faithful).
It is striking to rehearse the place of the Father’s word in the earthly life of his incarnate Son. He was a man who was captivated first personally, and then in his teaching, by “what is written.”
- In the wilderness testing, three times he quoted Scripture to combat the devil’s temptations.
- In his hometown, he read from the scroll of Isaiah and spoke of its fulfillment in their midst.
- He spoke of his cousin John as “he of whom it is written.”
- He quoted Scripture as he cleared the temple of moneychangers and when he rebuked proud Pharisees.
- Every step toward Calvary came, he said, “as it is written.”
The word of his Father, in Scripture, played a markedly central role in his life.
But also striking was Jesus’s pattern of retreat (for prayer) and return (for ministry). He was a man of prayer, who availed himself of his Father’s ear, often withdrawing from the daily patterns of city and town life to meet with his Father in the wilderness. Again and again he went to desolate places to pray, often alone.
But also, at times, he took his men. He says to his disciples in Mark 6:31: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” And in such times, as well as his daily investment in his disciples, he availed himself of the fellowship, of the corporate body of the faithful. Jesus too drew holy strength, and experienced holy shaping, through the lives of the faithful.
“Even the God-man availed himself of God’s daily means of grace for the good of his soul.”
And so, in looking at his life of devotion to his Father, we find, at bottom, a man of the word and prayer. Even the God-man availed himself of God’s daily means of grace for the good of his soul through habits of accessing and rehearsing God’s word, and approaching him in prayer, living in the fellowship of those also devoted to God.
Look #4: He humbled himself.
We return to Philippians 2, this time picking up verse 8:
. . . [being] in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
Jesus’s humbling himself not only had a climactic moment, but it was a life of obedience to his Father. So for Look #4, our key term is submission. To submit means to “accept or yield to the will or authority of another.”
Before His Parents
First, in becoming human, he submitted as a child to the authority of his human parents. Luke 2:51, after his visit to the temple at age twelve, says that “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” By virtue of becoming human, he entered into various human relationships, and contexts, in which he was to have a disposition to yield.
There is nothing dehumanizing in such God-designed submission; in fact, nothing unbecoming of God himself in human flesh! Submission, then, we might say, is actually humanizing. Acknowledging the limits of our human knowledge and strength and abilities, and the God-ordained callings to which he gives us in variation, is to embrace our humanity and (for us) not to pretend we are God.
For Christ, though he was God, he also was human, and with respect to his human life, he righteously accepted and yielded to the will of those to whom he was assigned (by his Father) to submit, beginning with his parents.
To His Father’s Will
But of course his greatest and most defining submission came directly to the will of his Father. As we’ve already seen, in John 6:38 he says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Throughout his life, and culminating in Gethsemane, he chose to submit his natural human will to the divine will of his Father.
He was, in a sense, training his whole life for this. He was training his human will not only away from sin but toward his Father. And as he prays in the garden, “Father, . . . not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), he completes the lifelong project of humbling himself, and now at this most critical moment. He has humbled himself, and now, in unjust custody, he will be utterly humiliated — slandered, false accused, unjust beaten, flogged, and crucified. Yet not against his will, but chosen. He humbled himself.
In at least three distinct settings, the Gospels quote Jesus saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12; Luke 18:14; Luke 14:11). It is one of his most repeated teachings. And he not only taught it, but lived it. Jesus’s human life is the supreme manifestation of his teaching. He humbled himself and waited for his Father to exalt him.
Look #5: He died for sins not his own.
At this point we might ask, Why was such a man executed? He did not deserve to die. In fact, this is the only human life in the history of the world that did not deserve death — the only sinless human life.
Now our key term is substitution. His death, like the sacrificial system in Israel, going back to Moses, was substitutionary. An innocent party without blemish served as a substitute for the guilty and blemished. In ancient Israel, God ordained and permitted that under the terms of the first covenant, sacrificial animals, who did not themselves deserve death, might stand in — that is, might be substitutes — for God’s people who had sinned.
The reality of sin demanded reckoning. Sin is an assault on the glory of God. Sin, at its heart, is a preferring of other things to God, which profoundly dishonors him. Sin cannot simply be swept under the rug without God himself despising his own glory and worth.
So God designed, in his grace, a temporary measure whereby his people’s sin might be dealt with, without they themselves incurring the death they deserved. For centuries, God’s people knew this provision both as amazing grace and as anticipating something greater. After all, in the final count, as Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Human blood would be necessary.
Our Sins Laid on Him
And so for centuries, the shedding of sacrificial blood in Israel had anticipated one unimaginably great once-for-all sacrifice that would secure God’s full acceptance of his sinful people forever. It would have been one thing for Jesus himself, before the cross, to say that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” and then for his apostles Peter and John and Paul to explain it in greater detail. But remarkably this revelation that a single human sacrifice might somehow suffice for the sins of many came seven centuries before Christ in the mouth of Isaiah.
Telling of a coming suffering servant, Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Why was he despised and rejected? Not for any failures of his own, as we might assume. Isaiah then dares to tread where Moses had only pointed:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6)
It was our sorrows that made him a man of sorrows. Our griefs acquainted him with grief. He was pierced, he bled, for our transgressions. He was crushed, he died, for our iniquities. He was wounded by men so that believing souls might be healed before God. We whom he saves are the sinners, not the Savior. Yet on the righteous, unblemished one, God laid our iniquities. This is substitution. God condemned our sin in the flesh of Christ.
Willful, Blood-Bought Joy
As we close this first session, remember that Jesus chose it. His submission was not without joy. His was not obedience without willingness. He did not just endure death for those who believe; he embraced it.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross.” And I would not be surprised if Hebrews leaned on Isaiah 53:11 to make such a stunning claim: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.”
What sustained Jesus on that dark Friday we now call “Good,” on the single most horrible day in the history of the world? Joy. He saw ahead and was satisfied enough that what joy he tasted even then sustained him through the agony, distress, and anguish.
Unlike the animals who stood in temporarily as substitutes for God’s people in the old covenant, Jesus willed it, with his human will. He embraced it. It pleased him to give his own life as a substitute for sinners — for the joy of the many who would believe and the glory of his Father. What wondrous love is this.