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The WORK of CHRIST
WHAT THE EVENTS OF JESUS LIFE MEAN FOR YOU
By R.C. SPROUL
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 R.C. Sproul
All rights reserved.
So often, we think of the work of Christ as something that began when He was baptized in the Jordan River around the age of thirty. In reality, however, the work of Christ began in eternity past in the covenant of redemption. In this chapter, Dr. R. C. Sproul explains how the humiliation of Christ in His incarnation and crucifixion and the exaltation of Christ in His resurrection and ascension are both grounded in the eternal covenant among the persons of the Trinity.
1. To be able to state the relation of each of the persons of the Trinity to the covenant of redemption.
2. To be able to summarize the pattern of humiliation and exaltation in the work of Christ.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The pact of salvation makes known to us the relationships and life of the three persons in the Divine Being as a covenantal life, a life of consummate self-consciousness and freedom. Here, within the Divine Being, the covenant flourishes to the full.... The greatest freedom and the most perfect agreement coincide. The work of salvation is an undertaking of three persons in which all cooperate and each performs a special task.
—Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ
A. In theology, we make a distinction between the person of Christ and the work of Christ.
B. Although the distinction is important, we must never let it become a separation.
C. We understand the work in light of the person doing the work, and the work itself reveals a great deal about the person.
II. The Covenant of Redemption
A. The work of Christ began in eternity past in the "covenant of redemption."
B. Although most Christians are familiar with the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and so on, not as many are familiar with the covenant of redemption.
C. The covenant of redemption refers to a pact or an agreement that takes place in eternity within the Godhead.
D. Not only is creation a Trinitarian work; redemption is a Trinitarian work.
E. The Father designed the plan of redemption.
F. The Son was assigned to accomplish that redemption.
G. The Holy Spirit is tasked with applying that redemption to us.
III. The Incarnation
A. During His earthly ministry, Jesus said, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven" (John 3:13).
B. Jesus' ministry in this world began with His descent.
C. Jesus was born of the seed of David according to the flesh.
D. In His birth we have the incarnation of God Himself.
E. The gospel of John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
F. In this "incarnation," God did not undergo metamorphosis into a man.
G. The incarnation was not so much a subtraction as an addition.
H. The eternal second person of the Trinity took upon Himself a human nature for the purpose of redemption.
IV. The Pattern of Humiliation and Exaltation
A. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, wrote: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (2:5–11).
B. In scholarly circles, this passage is known as the Kenotic Hymn.
C. The Greek word kenosis, which is found in this passage, means "an emptying."
D. The emphasis of the passage is the transition that Jesus underwent by leaving His exalted state and becoming incarnate.
E. The pattern found in this passage is the pattern of humiliation and exaltation.
F. Jesus began exalted in heaven, but He condescended to join us in our predicament in order to redeem us.
G. By entering into human flesh, He underwent profound humiliation.
H. Throughout His life, the humiliation became worse and worse until it reached its nadir in the cross.
I. After the crucifixion, He was resurrected and exalted to glory once again.
V. The Kenosis
A. In Romans 8, Paul told Christians that unless we are willing to identify with the humiliation of Jesus, we will never share in His exaltation.
B. The Son was willing to empty Himself and make Himself of no reputation.
C. In the nineteenth century, liberal scholars proposed the kenotic theory of the incarnation, saying that the Son's incarnation resulted in the laying aside of His divine attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence.
D. But the divine nature did not lose its attributes in the incarnation.
E. The human nature was truly human, and the divine nature remained fully and completely divine.
F. He emptied Himself of glory, privilege, and exaltation.
VI. Exaltation to Former Glory
A. After His humiliation, Jesus was again highly exalted.
B. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus asked the Father to restore to Him the glory that He had from the beginning (John 17:5).
C. This was exactly what the Father did once Jesus completed His work.
D. In Philippians 2:9, Paul wrote, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name."
E. Many assume that the name referred to here is Jesus.
F. In fact, the name above every name is the title belonging only to God, namely, Adonai ("Lord").
G. The name Adonai is given to Jesus.
1. Was the plan of redemption included in the eternal decree or counsel of God? What do the following texts indicate?
a. Ephesians 1:4–11
b. Ephesians 3:11
c. 2 Thessalonians 2:13
d. 2 Timothy 1:9
e. James 2:5
f. 1 Peter 1:2
2. Did the plan of salvation have the nature of a covenant? What do the following texts teach us?
a. John 5:30, 43
b. John 6:38–40
c. John 17:4–12
3. How do Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 support the idea that the eternal plan of redemption is a covenant?
4. What do the following texts have in common?
a. John 6:38–39
b. John 10:18
c. John 17:4
d. Luke 22:29
5. John 1:1–14 is one of the most significant New Testament texts dealing directly with the incarnation. Read these verses and outline the main points that are made in each section.
1. What was the role of the Father in the covenant of redemption? The Son? The Holy Spirit?
2. Regarding whether the parties to the covenant of grace are God and Christ or God and His people, Charles Hodge said, "The Westminster standards seem to adopt sometimes the one and sometimes the other mode of expression." He argued that in the Confession (7:3), "the implication is that God and his people are the parties." The Larger Catechism, however, says that the covenant of grace "was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed." Are the two ideas contradictory? Inconsistent? Why or why not?
3. Louis Berkhof argued that it is better to say that the Word became flesh rather than saying that God became man. It is better, he said, because it was the second person of the Trinity who assumed human nature, not the Triune God. Do you agree? Why or why not?
1. Reflect on the fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit planned your redemption from all eternity. Give praise to God for His amazing grace toward you.
2. The nadir of Christ's humiliation was the cross on which He cried out as He who knew no sin was made sin, and the wrath of God was poured out on Him. Meditate on the following poem, which reminds us that Jesus cried out as one forsaken in order that you and I may never have to.
Yea, once, Immanuel's orphaned cry his universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, "My God, I am forsaken!"
It went up from the Holy's lips amid his lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
SUGGESTED READING FOR FURTHER STUDY
Athanasius. On the Incarnation.
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, pp. 212–16, 323–482.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, pp. 265–71, 331–55.
Dabney, Robert L. Systematic Theology, pp. 431–39.
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 357–62, 378–407.
Kelly, Douglas. Systematic Theology, vol. 1, pp. 398–400.
Macleod, Donald. The Person of Christ, pp. 155–80.
Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, pp. 51–67.
Reymond, Robert. Jesus, Divine Messiah, pp. 251–66.
Shedd, William G. T. Dogmatic Theology, 3rd edition, pp. 678–80.
Witsius, Herman. The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man, vol. 1, pp. 165–92.CHAPTER 2
WE FIND THE NARRATIVES of Jesus' birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but Luke's account is the more detailed. Luke alone provides background on John the Baptist's birth; on the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she was to conceive and bring forth a Son, who would be the Son of God; on Mary's visit to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist; on the experience of the shepherds outside Bethlehem; and on Mary and Joseph's encounters with Simeon and Anna.
Another fascinating feature of Luke's accounts is his inclusion of three songs that were given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I think these songs are very significant with respect to the work of Christ, but that significance is often overlooked. In the Old Testament, when God performed particularly significant works of deliverance or redemption, His people often celebrated in song. We find the Song of Moses (Exod.
15:1–18), the Song of Miriam (v. 21), and the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:1–31). In the New Testament, in the book of Revelation, the Apostle John shared his vision of the people of God singing "a new song" (5:9–10).
In Luke, we find three songs that were composed spontaneously to celebrate the incarnation. Each of these songs is known by the first words of the song in Latin. They are the Song of Mary (the Magnificat), the Song of Zacharias (the Benedictus), and the Song of Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis). In this chapter, I want to look briefly at these songs, because their content reveals significant dimensions of the work of Jesus.
THE SONG OF MARY
The Song of Mary, the Magnificat, is perhaps the most famous of the three. Mary, having learned of her pregnancy from Gabriel, and of the pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth with John the Baptist, went to visit Elizabeth. When Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth, the unborn John leaped in Elizabeth's womb for joy, and Elizabeth welcomed Mary as "the mother of my Lord." Mary then sang:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever. (Luke 1:46b–55)
Mary began by "magnifying" God. Why did she do this? First, she did this because "He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant" (v. 48a). Mary was overwhelmed that out of all of the women in the history of the world, she, a simple peasant girl, had been selected by God to be the mother of the Messiah. It is as if she was saying, "I can't get over this. He has noticed me. He has regarded me in my low estate." This is the original Cinderella story, that tale of a scullery maid who captured the heart of the prince.
Mary continued: "Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation" (vv. 48b–50). She knew that it was "the Holy One" who had noticed her and given her such an unspeakable privilege. When the angel told her that she was going to conceive this baby, she was baffled and asked, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" The angel replied, "With God nothing will be impossible" (1:34, 37). The One who brought the universe and teeming life out of nothing is able to make life in a womb. So Mary celebrated the breathtaking power of God and mercy of God.
"He has shown strength with His arm," Mary sang. "He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty" (Luke 1:51–53). Mary understood that if all the weapons of the world were placed in opposition to God, He could sweep them away with one gesture of His mighty right arm. He can scatter the mighty. He can pull down the proud from their seats of power, strip them of their strength, and exalt the lowly. He has fed the hungry but left the rich destitute.
Mary said, "He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever" (vv. 54–55). Here at the end of her song, Mary tied together what she had heard from the angel and from Elizabeth with the nation of Israel. She understood that the baby who had been conceived in her womb was not for an isolated purpose in history, but was the fulfillment of the whole of the Old Testament, the whole expectation of the nation of Israel.
The New Testament speaks of Jesus' birth happening in "the fullness of the time" (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10). This means that the incarnation of Christ was not an afterthought or an impulse of God. Rather, it was part of God's plan, for He had promised His people a redemption tied up together with the covenant that He had made with the patriarch Abraham. That plan was carefully mapped out, so that a definite time was set for Jesus to be born.
When a woman becomes pregnant, her doctor typically sets a "due date." The mother then counts down the months, weeks, and days until the time arrives for the baby to be delivered. Of course, not all babies honor their due dates. Our first child kept us waiting ten days past her due date, and I thought I would lose my mind because I was so eager for the time to be finished so I could see our child. But Jesus came precisely on the due date set in eternity past by the Father.
Just as I was eager for the birth of my daughter, there is a sense in which the whole of history was waiting and groaning for the birth of Jesus, but He could not come until the time had been filled to its capacity. I like to think of this idea of "the fullness of time" as a glass filled to the brim with water. Usually, when we fill a glass with water, we do not fill it all the way to the top; we leave a little space so we can move it around without spilling the water within. But "fullness of time" is like a glass filled to the very brim, so full that it cannot receive one more drop of water without overflowing. In the same way, God so decreed and prepared the world that Jesus came at the precise moment of His pleasure, not one second too soon or too late.
Excerpted from The WORK of CHRIST by R.C. SPROUL. Copyright © 2012 R.C. Sproul. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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