The Valley Below and the Peak Ahead (Philippians 2:9–11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, so that…” —Philippians 2:9–10a (emphasis mine)

With Philippians 2:5–8 we stumble onto the ground of Christ’s humiliation. In 2:9–11, we are carried up to the heavens of Christ’s exhalation. Like Moses, we stumble onto the burning bush—God come down. Then, like Isaiah, we are carried up to heaven, to see Christ seated on His throne.

Traversing Philippians 2:6–11 is like going directly from the Dead Sea to Mount Everest. This text takes one as far below sea level as it does above it. In verses 6–8 we are plunged as low as hell (experienced by Christ on earth mind you). In verses 9–11 we are lifted as high as heaven. Christ humbles Himself to be an earthly servant. God exalts Him as heavenly Lord.

And yet, as high as we come in verse 9, we have not yet reached the peak. From verse 9 one can both look back to the valley, and higher up to the summit. If we ask why Christ was exalted, from verse 9 we can see two different answers. The “therefore” looks back to the grounds of Christ’s exaltation. The “so that” looks forward to the goal of Christ’s exaltation.

Why is Christ exalted? Here we are not simply told that Christ humbled Himself and that God exalted Him, but that God exalted Christ because Christ humbled Himself. Christ’s exaltation was a necessary conclusion and consequence of His humiliation. Because the valley was so deep, God will have the mountain so high.

Why is Christ exalted? As we look up to the cloud covered summit, the answer is stunning. Christ is exalted so that He might be exalted.

“…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11; emphasis mine).

Just as Christ humbled Himself so that He might humble Himself (2:7–8), God exalts Christ so that Christ might be exalted. Christ’s humiliation is complete. It is finished. But His exhalation has not yet come to its fullness. There is nothing lacking in Christ. Rather, the exhalation that lies ahead is the inescapable manifestation of Christ’s absolute authority for creation’s universal recognition and confession. Christ’s exhalation involves His resurrection, ascension, session, and return. One of these is not yet. The first three are towards the purpose of the last one. Christ was exalted so that He might be exalted. Come Lord Jesus!

The Glorious Danger of Being Caught Up into Christology (Philippians 2:5–8)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was 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 2:5–8).

All of Scripture is God’s holy, authoritative, inspired, inerrant word, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but with Philippians 2:5–11, we come to a most holy place. Like Moses with the burning bush, one feels they stumble onto it. We thought we were simply walking along, then suddenly we are confronted with God manifest on earth. Perhaps, rather than saying we stumble onto it, we should say we get caught up into it. That’s exactly what Paul appears to have done, He does so frequently in his letters. It is as though at the mention of Jesus Christ and His humility, Paul gets carried up. He doesn’t get carried away. He gets carried up. It is one thing to be distracted  by chasing rabbits. Those are unnecessary endeavors. It is another to be distracted by chasing a unicorn. Remaining focused on a lesser thing when confronted with transcendent glory is no virtue.

This is the locus classicus, the definitive text of Christology in the Scriptures, and we don’t come to it directly. Paul doesn’t take up the subject matter of Christology. He stumbles onto it, and then He gets caught up into it. Paul is writing to the Philippians about unity and humility and suddenly, we are caught up with Him into the mystery of the God-man.

This is the glorious danger that all true discussions of Christian ethics and discipleship are liable to. One should always feel they are on the verge of tripping into the Trinity or being caught up into Christology. It is a danger one should readily welcome and plunge into. If our discussions of discipleship avoid this glorious danger, they fail. They fail to be an expression of our living as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, the gospel of the God-man (Philippians 1:27). 

While we cannot replicate the gospel, we should imitate it. We cannot live the gospel, but we should live gospel-shaped lives. The gospel not only provides a river of life, it shapes the banks in which that river is meant to flow. Pondering the mysteries of the incarnation of our Lord, the hypostatic union, Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is not simply as practical as church unity, it is essential to it.

Union, All the Way Up (Colossians 3:1–4)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” —Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:5–6 (ESV)

The saints union with Christ isn’t hanging by a thread. Nor is our connection with Christ one of steel cables linking us to certain points of Christ, say His death and resurrection. You are as immersed into Christ as a baptized Baptist. With respect to my Presbyterian brothers, you are not sprinkled into Jesus. Further, when you come up out of the baptismal waters you don’t come out of Jesus. Jesus is the ocean the saints swim in. As united as a man is to his wife, so Christ is united to His Bride; two have become one.

Jesus is in such union with His people, that now, as the God-man, He does nothing without them. This union goes all the way. If you are in Christ:

Jesus’ death, is your death.

Jesus’ resurrection, is your resurrection.

But the glories do not stop there.

Jesus’ ascension, is your ascension.

Jesus’ session, is your session.

Jesus’ appearing, will be your appearing.

These are things that are above. These are heavenly things. The ascension and session of Christ are two neglected doctrines. Perhaps this is why our lives are more earthly than they ought to be.

The Exegetical Systematician: Orientating Advents

“In God’s plan all history is oriented to the incarnation of the Son of God and to his manifestation in glory at end of the age. The lessons for us are numerous. But one is of paramount importance. Life here and now that is not conditioned by faith in Jesus’ first coming and oriented to the hope of this second is godless and hopeless.” —John Murray, The Advent of Christ

The Exegetical Systematician: So Close

“The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.” —John Murray, The Death of Christ

Creating Word, Sustaining Word, Redeeming Word (Colossians 1–20)

Jesus created the spheres and circles of the universe and set them spinning. From the macro-cosmos of Jupiter its 53 named moons, the Sloan Great wall of galaxies, and the colossal star UY Scuti, to the micro-cosmos of uranium 235, protons, and quarks—all things visible and invisible—all were made through Jesus.

Further, Jesus is no deistic spinner of the watches He has made. He is no grand designer of perpetual motion machines. The universe was not an epic pitch of the omnipotent one, wherein he wound up and let go. Jesus not only creates, he sustains. By His word creation is—always, at all points of its is-dom. It came into being by His word and is sustained in being by His word (Hebrews 1:3). You walk around on, breath in, and are made of nuclear energy. Micro-cosmos, capable of undoing you a million times over, are not simply held together by His hand, they are by His hand. They don’t have an independent existence. Jesus doesn’t simply do maintenance on the stars. He does stars at every point of their existence.

Jesus doesn’t complete the watch to set it in motion independently of Him. He motions it at all times. Man makes a generator because he is limited. He can’t produce electricity. Man isn’t more intelligent than God because he can make a hands off machine. God is unlimited in wisdom and power, such that, nothing works without Him; including you and your generator. God never has too many irons in the fire.

But what are all these ticks and tocks ticking and tocking towards? Has an alarm been set? Is a consummatory suppertime comming? Yes; one day this old creation will grow up, mature, and be born anew—a new creation, and then, the marriage supper of the Lamb. The cosmos isn’t an experiment. Men toy with magic and science and find power that undoes them. Jesus created and sustains that He might be preeminent in the redemption of all things by the blood of the cross. The Word delivers no impromptu speech. Every word—creating words, sustaining words, redeeming words—every word is scripted, with the basic plot outlined in the Scriptures.

The Exegetical Systematician: Why?

So in the death of Christ we encounter an absolute abnormality. In all other cases men and women deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. Yet he died. What is the reason?

But there is something, perhaps more astounding. This arises from who he was. He was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God and for that reason equal with God the Father in respect of Godhood, of divine identity. He, the Word, eternally pre-existing, eternally with God, and eternally God, became flesh. He was the eternal life with the Father and in him was life. So death was not only the contradiction of what he was as human. It was the contradiction of all that he was as God. This is the astounding feature of Christ’s death. He died. But death in his case was the contradiction of all that he was as divine and human, as God-man. This, therefore, points up the absolute uniqueness, the unprecedented unparalleled character of his death. And it points up the urgency of the question: why? —John Murray, The Death of Christ

When the Tabernacle Burst at the Seams (Exodus 26)

Rare is the soul who reads construction manuals for kicks. Chances are you don’t read the instructions for something you’re going to build; you just look at the pictures. Here are construction plans for something they built, and there are no pictures. You don’t even have the parts, and you couldn’t manufacture them to reconstruct this tent even if you wanted. The more pics of the tabernacle you look at, the better, for you soon realize they’re all different. We know neither the precise size nor appearance of the tabernacle and its furniture.

Don’t mourn that you can’t reconstruct the tabernacle exactly as it was. Don’t mourn that you have words instead of pictures. The majority of the Israelites never saw the tabernacle. It was mysterious. Access was restricted. The clearest insight Israel had of the tent was the text. The way they “saw” the tabernacle is the same way you see—through words. There are no photographs of the tabernacle, for the tabernacle itself is a picture, and one you are meant to see via words. In his commentary on Exodus, Phil Ryken writes,

The reason we study the tabernacle today is not so we can draw pictures of it or build an exact replica (although this can be helpful), but to learn what the tabernacle teaches us about knowing God. The question is what does the tabernacle mean? Why did God tell Moses to set up a tent, and why did he tell him to do it this way?

Don’t feel gypped because you don’t get to see the tabernacle; that’s like wishing you could reconstruct scaffolding once a building project is done. The tabernacle was scaffolding, and it’s no longer needed. We have a description of it, so that we can learn something about the structure that was once under it, but now, the scaffolding has fallen, or rather, that which lied under it, superseded and fulfilled it so that it burst at the seems and rose through it.

Jesus tented among us, the supreme revelation of God’s glory (John 1:14). Through the curtain of His rent flesh we all have access to the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:19–22). In Jesus, we’re not just brought into the inner sanctum, we’re indwelt as temples both individually (1 Corinthians 6:19) and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, Ephesians 2:20–22).

So read these construction plans like a child reads the manual to their newest Lego toy, or the way a young family reads the plans to a home they’re building. Look under the scaffolding to what Christ is, and what in union with Him you are.

Graceful Grace (Exodus 17:8–16)

Exodus gracefully testifies to grace—the grace of the gospel. Jesus is seen in the manna, in the Rock, and in the water. Then, you come to a text like this. Exodus remains graceful, but we might get clumsy. Ardent to see grace, we’re ham-fisted in handling God’s Sword.

Some fail to see grace where it is (the Old Testament). Others see it, but in a way that it isn’t there. Certainly of the two errors the latter is the more permissible. It’s going wrong in the right direction, but we’d rather not go wrong at all. We want to see the grace that is gracefully there—the grace as God speaks of it.

Allegory, unless justified, is a cheap and clumsy method. Moses’ upraised hands on the hill anticipate Christ crucified. Aaron and Hur foreshadow the thieves. Joshua speaks of Jesus’ conquest and his chosen men, the disciples. See what I mean? That’s butterfingering the Word. Grace indeed, but most ungraceful in method.

What then to do with the text? Biblical theology. What is Biblical theology? It’s a technical term meaning more than theology that is Biblical. It is an unfortunate term. Perhaps it’s best to contrast it with systematic theology. Systematic theology reads the Bible logically. Now, that is a poor way of putting it as well, for Biblical theology is not illogical. And here I am trying to be graceful. Systematic theology asks, “What does the Bible say about “x”? About God’s sovereignty? About angels? About Jesus’ atonement? And on an on. It looks at the answers and organizes them logically. Biblical theology reads the Bible historically. It reads the Bible as a single unfolding and unified story. These two ways of reading the Bible are not to be pitted against one another, but rather to serve as complements.

What then is the story of the Bible? In a word Graeme Goldsworthy might say, “kingdom.” What is the kingdom of God? His answer: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” That is a good description of what the kingdom is, but we still need the plot. This is what the kingdom is, but what does it do? At a Saturday meal with his family one might hear Douglas Wilson ask his grandchildren, “What is the point of the whole Bible?” The enthusiastic response, “Kill the dragon, get the girl.” That is what the kingdom does. The serpent sought to kill, steal, and destroy. Having rebelled against God’s rule, man was exiled out of God’s place, estranged, no longer His people. God then promised a serpent-crushing seed of the woman.

From Genesis 3 on we see two seeds. Certainly, Jesus is the seed of the woman, but all united to Him by faith are the seed as well. As decreed by God, these two seeds are at enmity. Cain kills Abel. Genesis goes on to show us a series of genealogies, two seeds placed side by side: Cain and Seth, Ham and Shem, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob.

Who is Amalek? Perhaps a nation already in existence at the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:7). But at that point only the country of the Amalekites is spoken of. Perhaps this is anachronistic, just as we speak of the Incas and America. Further, in Exodus 17 it is peculiar that the Amalekites are spoken of as Amalek. Who is Amalek? The grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:11–16). What glorious things the genealogies are! What a story they tell. Do you remember Isaac’s blessing of Esau?

Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck. —Genesis 27:39–40

Here comes Amalek, raiding the tail (see Deuteronomy 25:17–19) of Israel, seemingly living by his sword. We’re given no motive as to why Amalek attacked, except the ancient one of Genesis 3. The seed of the woman opposed the seed of the serpent.

The kingdom is opposed. The war goes on, and as this text makes clear, this is Yahweh’s war. Israel isn’t wielding God, God is wielding Israel. Amalek will be blotted out. God has formed and redeemed a people. He is leading them to a mountain to receive His rule. He will bring them to His place, but when they arrive, there’ll be enemies, His enemies, which He will conqueror by them. This is the story of the Scriptures, and the climax of this battle, the final victory, the blessing of His people are all ultimately, and gracefully, found in Christ.

The Dogmatician: The Messenger is the Message

The source of his message is himself, not inspiration but incarnation. God did not even speak with him as he did with Moses, face to face, but was in him and spoke through him (Heb. 1:3). He is not one prophet among many, but the supreme, the only prophet. He is the source and center of all prophecy; and all knowledge of God, both in the Old Testament before his incarnation and in the New Testament after his resurrection and ascension, is from him (1 Pet. 1:11, 3:19: Matt. 11:27). The will of God that Jesus came to do further included the miracles he performed. The one work is differentiated in many works (5:36), which are the works of his Father (5:20; 9:3: 10:32, 37, 14:10). They prove that the Father loves him and dwells in him (5:20; 10:38; 14:10), bear witness that the Father sent him (5:36; 10:25), and manifest his divine glory (2:11; 11:4, 40). He not only performs miracles but in his person is himself the absolute miracle. As the incarnate Spirit-conceived, risen and glorified Son of God, he is himself the greatest miracle, the center of all miracles, the author of the re-creation of all things, the firstborn of the dead, preeminent in everything (Col. 1:18). —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics