‘Obedient to the point of death…’
Phil. 2:5-11 [Part 7]
The consummate expression of the Orthodox Christian faith is the Nicene Creed, recited at the Divine Liturgy. The Creed, formulated by the first two Ecumenical Councils, is the flowering of the witness of the Apostles as expressed in their preaching and writings in the decades following Holy Pentecost.
So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed (Acts 19:20)
The Christ hymn in Philippians is a clear example of how the New Testament planted the seeds from which the Word grew. It begins with a poetic recitation of the earliest version of the Church’s understanding of the descent of Him who ‘came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.’
It is now time to consider the career of Christ as truly man, but not merely man. The hymn sums it up succinctly.
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
No biographical details, as found in the four Gospels. The hymn simply praises His obedience. But the obedience of a righteous man to the will of the Father in the wicked and fallen world, filled with hostile powers, was certain to lead to suffering and ultimately a martyr’s death.
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12)
Living in a post-Freudian age, we might put the terms of our struggle differently, and speak of alienation, meaninglessness, inexplicable cruelty, political repression, or economic exploitation. The essential point remains the same. Life is a battleground. And of course…
The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26)
Christ voluntarily put Himself into the hands of our enemy, that through His power He could redeem us from them. This was the way in which our Church Fathers best liked to explain Christ’s mission — Christ the Victor!
The nadir of Christ’s abasement was the shameful death on the Cross. That’s precisely why St. Paul made this cursed and wretched death the very heart of his Gospel. The Word of God, St. Paul proclaimed, is nothing another than the Word of the Cross.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2).
Victorian novelist and poet Thomas Hardy once wrote: ‘If a way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.’ Christ looked the worst straight in the eye. He willingly submitted to it. And overcame it.