IT MUST have been a momentous event
in heaven. All heaven must have held its holy breath as it witnessed
a most astounding event. The Treasure of heaven, the Son of God,
was beginning to set aside His shining glory, preparing Himself
for an unprecedented trip to rebellious Earth.
Why would He want to do this? Should not the Triune God let the earthlings self-destruct themselves? It would not take too long for them to do that! Why bother with a bunch of ungrateful and rebellious creatures, living in a tiny and insignificant part of the great cosmos? But there was something that was making Jesus make that trip.
The motive in Jesus for wanting to make the trip can be understood by remembering one story he told after He had arrived on earth.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. "They will respect my son" he said." (Mt. 21:33-37).
What made Jesus make that trip was obedience to His Father in heaven. He was sent by the Father to a world that was trapped in a sinful pattern of idolatry and rebellion. The divine plan was to unfold in the earthly life of His Son, a plan that Father and Son must have discussed together with the Holy Spirit as a conversation within the Trinity.
Jesus made it clear that He understood why He came to earth. "As the Father has sent me " (Jn. 20:21) He declared, demonstrating a clear idea of who had sent Him. On another occasion, He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (Jn. 4:34), again showing a clarity of mission and passion.
There was another reason why Jesus came to earth. He described Himself as the Good Shepherd who "lays down his life for His sheep". (Jn. 10:11). He knew that His mission was to save the human race from its sins by dying on the cross as an atonement for sins. It was through this painful sacrificial act that the world was to be saved and given eternal life. No wonder He said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (Jn. 10:10). Jesus came not only because of obedience to the Father but also because of His profound love for human beings and His creation.
The above story of the ungrateful tenants ends tragically. The landowner's son was mercilessly killed by the mutinous tenants. Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him, but He also knew that through His death on the cross, the rebellious human race would be saved. And so He came. He made the trip to earth, both as an act of obedience to the Father and also as an act of love for the desperately lost and dying human race. His obedience sprang from love - love for the Father and love for us.
When Jesus set aside His Kingly and divine powers and possessions in heaven, He was not merely performing a nice symbolic and sentimental act. It was for real. Paul, perhaps borrowing a liturgical phrase used in the early church, said that Jesus "made Himself nothing," even though He was "in very nature God" (Phil 2:6-7). Jesus voluntarily set aside all that was available to Him as the divine Son of God so that He could truly become a man, a servant, with all its inherent limitations.
Jesus was used to life in heaven. He was the very source of the glory and joy in heaven. He was adored by heaven's inhabitants; there was not a single moment when He was not worshipped. He was loved perfectly and one could say with hushed reverence, the "delight of heaven". Such was His glory and honour. No one could or would say or do anything to dishonour or hurt Him. Heaven was a perfect home for Jesus.
And yet He left heaven to come to earth. Earth was a totally different place. It was a human wasteland of sin, idolatry and "to-your-face" rebellion. It was a place where evil was called good, and might was right, where sword was lord. The poor and the powerless dwelt in dark despair, victims rotting in the dark underbelly of a foolish and brutish world. The hearts of the rich and powerful were filled with wickedness and disregard for God and His law. Even the religious people were far from God as they worshipped their own creations of divinity - often resembling their own pathetic selves. In such a world, righteousness would feel like a stranger; holiness would be an uninvited alien. God would be unwelcome; the world would be an inhospitable place for God who wanted to visit it.
And yet Jesus came. He came almost unrecognised, without the trappings of human power and wealth - the very things that the spiritually blind earthlings worshipped. He came in poverty, exposed to all the uncertainties, injustices and indignities that persons, whose poverty and marginalised lives He came to share, would suffer in a world plunged in darkness. Jesus knew that in leaving heaven for earth, He was giving up heavenly glory for human mess, joy for sorrow, unceasing adoration for inhuman torture, and the crown for the cross. And yet He came.
And He came to stay. There was no plan for Him to travel back and forth between heaven and earth. It was not going to be like a mission trip for Him, where He would endure the deprivation, poverty and tragic mess for a few days or weeks, and then return to the homely comforts and delights of heaven, until the next trip. Nothing like that at all. When Jesus came, it was for a lifetime. It was only after He completed His mission, after more than 33 years of life on earth, that He returned to heaven. It was a long, uninterrupted life-long mission.
The only contact that Jesus had on earth with heaven was His frequent conversations with His Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit in His ministry. At the cross, even that was taken away from Him. He could have returned to heaven at the most painful part of His mission. But He endured saying to the Father, "Yet not as I will but as you will." (Mt. 26:39). He made Himself nothing for our sake. And He did not go home until His redemptive mission was completed.
All this He did because He obeyed His Father who had sent Him, and because He loves us. When Jesus was born on this earth as a helpless tiny baby, He came as the God who burned all His bridges. He came to stay. The Word became flesh. Heaven must have held its breath with spell-binding awe, beholding this mystery and depth of love. We too must do the same.
An Israeli tank patrolling
the southern border of Jerusalem overlooking
the village of Beit Jala near Bethlehem. -- CNI file picture.
Jesus came to earth not only because of obedience to
the Father but also because of His profound love for human beings
and His creation.
NO TRAPPINGS OF HUMAN POWER AND WEALTH
Jesus came almost unrecognised, without the trappings of human
power and wealth - the very things that the spiritually blind earthlings
worshipped He knew that in leaving heaven for earth, He was
giving up heavenly glory for human mess, joy for sorrow, unceasing
adoration for inhuman torture, and the crown for the cross. And yet He came.