“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.” (Phil. 2:8)*
I have long wished that, in Heaven, I might get to see the entire history of Christ’s earthly life, from His birth to His ascension—viewing each and every act of obedience. The reason is simple. Jesus lived a representative life. Jesus lived a sinless life. Christ’s life was, therefore, a life of representative sinlessness. Our Lord’s obedience stands in the place of His people’s sin. His law keeping is counted as the law keeping of those who have faith in Him.
Christ’s sinless life is set against the background of the scriptural testimony to the sinfulness of man. Job declared that man is “abominable and filthy,” one who “drinks iniquity like water” (Job 15:16). Solomon acknowledged, “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). The Apostle John warned, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” and “make Him a liar” (1 John 1:8; 10). The Apostle Paul summed it all up when he said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Yet, when the Son of God took to Himself a human nature, a sinless Man entered into time and space.
In a life that spanned three decades, our Lord never entertained a thought, never uttered a word, and never carried out an action that was defiled by impure motives. He always honored His Father in Heaven, always honored His earthly father and mother, never lusted, never uttered a word in sinful anger, never gossiped about or slandered His neighbor. He never stole, never lied, and never coveted. In short, He submitted to every commandment of the law of God without wavering. He loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and loved His neighbor as Himself. The Scriptures bear manifold witness to this truth, and it is one of the most profitable truths upon which we ought to meditate.
The Bible expressly declares that Jesus was sinless. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was “without sin” (Heb. 4:16)—that He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). At the announcement of His birth, an Angel called Him, “that Holy One who is to be born.” Pilate’s wife told her husband, “Have nothing to do with that just man.” Pilate himself said “I find no fault in Him.” The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.” The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man “ (Luke 23:47). Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34).
If external testimony was not enough, Christ bore witness to His own sinlessness when He said, “He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him” (John 7:18). Add to this the fact that He had said almost a thousand years prior, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, and Your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7-8; Heb. 10:5)). Jesus’ life was a life of perfect conformity to the will of God. The extent of Christ’s obedience is summed up in the words of Philippians 2:8: “He became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” In regard to the commands that God gave to the covenant people, we find that Christ began to fulfill them when He was circumcised on the eighth day. He was the only one who did not need what circumcision signified. At the beginning of His public ministry He underwent a baptism “of repentance,” though he needed no repentance. When John tried to stop Him from being baptized, He said, “permit it to be so now, for thus is it fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was obeying as the representative of His people.
When we speak of Christ’s obedience, we can sometimes mistakenly reduce it to His obedience to the moral law. While it is certainly true that He obeyed all those commands that are binding on all men for all time, He also fulfilled the ceremonial laws given to the Jews. There is, however, another dimension of the obedience of Christ. Jonathan Edwards observed that Jesus obeyed the mediatorial commands that the Father specifically gave to Him—commands that were more difficult than any given to us. Besides those moral and ceremonial laws, Jesus was commanded to “lay down His life willingly, and take it again.” “This command,” He said, “I have received from My Father” (John 10:17).
Our redemption rests upon Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary death. When we see the corruption of our minds, hearts and wills, we must look at the One who knew no sin and yet was made sin for us. When we long to know Christ in a deeper and more intimate way, it is good for us to meditate on the Scripture’s teaching concerning His representative perfection. Are you laboring under the weight of your sin before the presence of God? We must remember the One who was obedience to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
*This devotional was published in the April 2011 edition of Tabletalk Magazine.