The Cross Before The Throne
By D. M. Panton
Our Lord Jesus Christ summarized a vital principle of the heavenly kingdom when He said: "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). Our Lord was Himself the ultimate fulfillment of that which He taught. He humbled Himself as none other ever did or could, and correspondingly He is exalted above and beyond all.
In Philippians 2:5, the Apostle Paul not only pictures this truth but also enforces its obedience. "Have this mind in you," he says, for it is within our control and choice and therefore within our responsibility. This humility "was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself" (v. 8), who made Himself void by His own act (Moule). In Christ the principle is put in its most extreme form. As the span of Christ’s descent was the deepest of which the universe is capable, so the consequent enthronement is the limit which the universe affords.
The Apostle in a few vivid words, spans the mighty gulf created by the "mind of Christ." At one end is the Son of God dwelling in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; far down, in the depthless bottom of a voluntary descent, is a Man condemned and dying on a cruel cross. Therefore, by the reverse process of the law of recompense, the closing scene is exaltation on the Throne of the Universe. As Paul has expressed it elsewhere: He that "descended into the lower parts of the earth....is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens" (Eph. 4:9-10). As Jesus sank from the Godhead – a higher height than any other could sink, and sank to a lower depth than any other could – being made "sin" (2 Cor. 5:21) – so He is now enthroned where none but He could be enthroned.
Not only was every step of our Lord downward, but every descent avoided legitimate relief, and each humiliation might have been made far easier by another choice in itself perfectly legitimate:
1) In descending as God to earth, He might have descended as Jehovah did on Sinai, but He came shorn of the pomp, the majesty, the entourage of God.
2) In taking the creature’s form, He might have come as Michael or Gabriel, but instead, He appeared as a frail mortal.
3) In coming as a man He might have appeared in the flawless beauty of an Absalom, but "His visage was so marred more than any man" (Isa. 52:14).
4) The home He chose might have been the palace of a Solomon, but He who alone of mankind has ever been able to control His birth, chose an artisan’s cradle.
5) In leaving the world, He could have left in Elijah’s chariot and horses of fire, but He chose the pangs of death.
6) In the death He chose, He might, like Moses, have been buried by angels under the superintendence of God, but He chose to die forsaken and alone.
7) In the actual death itself, which, however lonely, could have been honorable, He who might in a moment have had twelve legions of angels, suffers Himself to be hung from a cross as a public criminal.
Our Lord’s descent is the designed model of our own and teaches us exactly what God rewards:
1) It was not sins which Christ renounced. That the sinless One renounced sins need not be stated. Every step downwards here named is the renunciation of a thing perfectly legitimate to Him in itself. He abdicated lawful rights, and abandoned sinless privileges, honors, dignities. He surrendered the good for the best.
2) His renunciation was purely voluntary. It was not the compulsory stripping of a Job, but a freely chosen loss for the sake of others. There was no compelling power in heaven or earth or hell. Being humiliated is not the same thing as humbling ourselves, though it may be a powerful help to it. "Humble yourselves," says Peter, "under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Pet. 5:6).
3) It was not a debasing of Himself simply for His own sake. It was an abasing to win for others blessings they could not have without it.
4) It was done in obedience to the Word of God. The Word of God to the Lord Jesus was that He should effect salvation for a doomed race, and to obey this involved every one of the downward steps, even including the choice of crucifixion, without which the curse could not alight on a sinless sacrifice. Scripture lay behind all. It was the sacrifice of popularity for the sake of principle; of wealth for better investments; of ease for help to the dying; of this world for the next.
Now is unveiled the law of recompense. The incalculable descent is only equaled by the immeasurable reverse of which we read in Philippians 2:9-11. "Wherefore also" – wherefore correspondingly – is the golden hinge on which the law of reward critically turns. "God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him" three things: "the name which is above every name" – fame; "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" – rank; "and that every tongue should confess [Him] Lord" – rule. The crystal-clear fact that the whole reward falls, not on the pre-incarnate Christ, but as exact recompense for the human renunciation, brings this law within our own bounds. The fact that it fell with full effect even on the Son of God makes it overwhelmingly certain that none of us can escape it.
Not arbitrarily, nor by divine favor, nor in grace has the Most High raised the Savior to the Throne of the Universe, but in response to a human life of self-renunciation. The height to which He rose is the measure of the depth to which He voluntarily sank. This award is "to the glory of God the Father," because we see more deeply into God by seeing exactly what it is that He rewards. We see that it is boundless unselfishness upon which He confers boundless power. It is the very soul of justice that He who plumbed all sorrow for sheer goodness should be supreme over all, and that Law should crown Grace at last. "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows" (Heb. 1:9).
Grip These Truths of the Cross Now
We reach the grand conclusion of the Apostle in Philippians 2:12: "so then, my beloved" because of this model which is also a command – "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," in anxiety and self-distrust (Alford), since the enabling dynamic within is nothing less than God: "for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (v. 13). The mistake many of us Christians are making is in not gripping these facts now while there is time to shape our lives to this mighty law and so to transfigure our whole future.
We shall not reap what we have not sown. If it cost our Lord so much, it must cost us also. Therefore to the apostles, ambitious of sharing the glory of their Lord but completely ignorant of the process, the Savior, after setting a child in the midst as our character model says: "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:4). The call to a cross is actually the call to a throne.