THE CONCEALED IDENTITY
There are cases of “mistaken” identity but there are cases of concealed identity. Novelists, including Mark Twain who has given us such examples of powerful people who disguised themselves to fit in with “common” people unnoticed in his The Prince and the Pauper. In more recent times, Peter Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim gave the world the story of a world-famous and now very wealthy novelist, Robin Masters, who had never been seen in public. He had apparently hired a butler, named Higgins, to look after his luxury Hawaiian holiday house and estate, “Robin’s Nest”. Masters struck a deal with a former Navy Seal, turned Private Detective, Thomas Magnum, to be his unpaid security consultant. Magnum was given accommodation and use of Masters’ Ferrari in exchange for anecdotes from his time as a ’Seal for the author to draw on his upcoming novels. (This was why Magnum had to continue working as a Private Detective). Higgins was personally acquainted with the mysterious novelist, but Magnum had never met or even seen him. Higgins and Magnum struck up a friendship as they went about solving crimes. After years of friendship it was revealed that Robin Masters was none other than Higgins himself.
One of my favourite stories of concealed identity hiding in plain sight is from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, where the escaped convict, Jean Valjean, is pursued for years by now retired Inspector Javert. As it turns out Jean Valjean, who had changed his name to M. Madeleine has now become a successful business man and the Mayor of Toulon. Javert arrives in Toulon and is immediately recognised by Valjean. But Javert does not recognise the now clean-shaven, genteel aristocratic Mayor of Toulon as his nemesis. But when he observes the compassion of M. Madeleine he recalls the time in prison when Jean Valjean had also displayed a similar extraordinary compassion for unfortunate fellow prisoners. The more he observed such acts of kindness and generosity from M. Madeleine the more Javert became convinced of the true identity of Madeleine. There is something about this idea of concealed identity that comes from the story of Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the Servant of the LORD would appear He would be largely unrecognised – there would be no form, no beauty, that we would desire Him (Isa. 53:2). But how on earth was this possible? How in God’s Name could those who were created by Him in His image not recognise Him for who He was? The answer to this great puzzle lies in one word: the kenosis.
CHRIST’S CONCEALED HIS IDENTITY BECAUSE HE EMPTIED HIMSELF – BUT EMPTIED HIMSELF OF WHAT?
Theologians refer to this profound mystery about Christ as the kenosis. This is from the original Greek word, translated from Philippians 2:7, which describes Christ emptying Himself. But ‘emptied Himself’ of what? Did He empty Himself of His deity? Did He empty Himself of His divine attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence)? Did He empty Himself of His divine prerogatives (to receive worship, to forgive sins, to exercise judgment)? Whatever it was, the apostle Paul tells us the result of this mysterious emptying: it resulted in Christ humbling Himself as a result; and, although it would appear to be the case that He was humiliated, Paul is careful to state that this was not the case. The apostle wants his readers to consider that the eternal Son of GOD humbled Himself in order to accomplish our salvation. Then he is equally emphatic that this was only a temporary emptying. As a result of Christ’s kenosis (emptying) GOD the Father then “exalted Him”:
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,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
GOD IS THE HUMBLEST BEING IN THE UNIVERSE!
In a moment I am going to make a bold claim about what it was that Christ emptied Himself of. If you, like me, are on a quest to know Jesus, then you must understand this about our Lord. The inevitable result of this new knowledge that I am about share with you is that it will lead to a change in our attitude. In fact, the very reason that Paul raised this insight in the first place was because there was an attitude that needed to be addressed. There had been a growing friction within the Philippian church which was caused by someone’s hurt pride. Paul introduces this profound revelation about Christ with:
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love,
being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
A part of Paul’s argument about Christ emptying Himself is that even though Jesus was God in the flesh, with all of the rights, privileges, and powers of the Almighty GOD, He humbled Himself and became as a servant of others. Jesus embraced an attitude of overlooking offence, forgiving those who wronged Him, and even though He had the right to condemn whomever He chose – He chose not to. As we read on in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians we discover who it was that Paul was specifically appealing to (Phil. 4:2) but the principle that he shared still applies to us today.
In making his case infinitely stronger Paul spent time shedding light on who this Christ was and how He so dramatically humbled Himself. In doing this, Paul also revealed what it was that Christ had emptied Himself of. By becoming a human being, Christ laid aside – not His deity – but His visible glory.
JESUS, THE ORIGINAL LORD OF GLORY!
Even though John 1:1 commences with the words, In the beginning, it actually begins before there was time, or to put it another way: John 1:1 begins before Genesis 1:1. And before there was even “time” (which began with the words uttered in Genesis 1:3) there was the triune GOD in all His glory including the Second Person of the Trinity (See Jude 25; Christ’s inference from John17:5; and Peter’s statement about God’s “eternal glory” in 1Pet. 5:10). That is, before Christ created the universe into which He would one day enter as a divine human being, He was the Lord of Glory. In writing to the Corinthians some time before He wrote to the Philippians, the apostle Paul described the incarnate (“in the flesh”) Jesus as “the Lord of glory” :
None of the rulers of this age understood this,
for if they had,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
First Corinthians 2:8
But how was it possible for those who saw the Christ that they did not recognise the most glorious Person in the universe? It is as though the One they had been longing millennia for was actually ‘hiding in plain sight’ but not just plain sight – very, very, public sight! Yet no-one, except for demons and devils, could recognise Him (Luke 4:34)! Again, it seems that what Jesus emptied Himself of was the visibility of His glory!
To be clear, I am not suggesting that the apostle Paul was suggesting that the incarnate Christ ceased to be glorious. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his fictitious Letter To Malcolm it’s not that God possesses glory, it’s that He is glory! Thus, when the Heavenly Father declared that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) He had actually stated that all people had not lived up to the standard set by His Son. When Christ became a human, He veiled His glory so that it was not usually visible to human eyes. In this sense, the Son of God was deglorified by becoming a human being. This was captured by one of my favourite musical theologians, Charles Wesley, who wrote these profound lyrics:
1. Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
2. Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.
WHEN THE LORD OF GLORY WAS deGLORIFIED
We have now seen that when the eternal Son of God became a human, His flesh veiled His glorious identity. This veiling was made easier because of the all-pervasive stain of sin on every human soul which naturally prevented people from truly seeing who Jesus really was. Today, of course, even though Christ is now unveiled because of His victory over death which restored the capacity of the redeemed to behold His glory – somethings which He prayed for to His Father (John 17:5) – unredeemed people today are still “blinded” from seeing Christ in His glory because the false god of this world attempts to keep them veiled! When the former slave-trade ship’s captain, John Newton cried out to God for forgiveness and salvation, he later wrote a song in which he testified, “Once I was blind but now I see!”
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,
to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God.
Second Corinthians 4:3-4
But the good news for those who have not yet seen the glory of Christ is that Jesus both invites and offers people to have their veil removed (2Cor. 3:14). And the challenge for us who have seen the glory of Christ is for us to pray that Christ will remove this obscuring veil from those whom we deeply care about – such as those who live in our city, our neighbourhood, our street, and in our homes!
WHEN THE LORD OF GLORY WAS reGLORIFIED
Just before Christ was taken away by the Temple guards to appear before the High Priests where He was tried for blasphemy (because He declared that He was GOD), He went up the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. What He prayed was profound:
A couple of weeks prior to this Jesus had taken His disciples to the northern most town in Israel, Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). Six days later He took Peter, James, and John, up Mount Hermon where the Jewish “legends” said that the most powerful of the fallen Watcher angels had been imprisoned (Mark 9:1). When they reached the beginning of the snow-line where nothing grows, and the boulders and rocks make the rest of the ascent most uninviting, they stopped. The locals called those large boulders “the gates of hell”. As the uncertain disciples stood there somewhat bewildered, the rocky ground on which they stood began tremble as before their very eyes the black of the night sky was transformed into daylight brighter than full-sun daylight. Then they realised the light was not shining on Christ but out of Him (Mark 9:3)! Then Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ in the midst of the Shekinah (glory) light (Mark 9:4). They then realised that it was not the mountain trembling causing the ground under their feet to become unsteady—it was Christ speaking that was causing the mountain to tremble—and as He spoke with Moses it was as if Moses expected it to (see Exo. 19:18)! Then the Voice of the Father was heard and the mountain trembled yet again (as mountains always do whenever GOD appears on them)! In this moment of the veil being momentarily removed from the apostles’ eyes to see what was always there – the glory of the eternal Son of God – would be etched into Peter’s mind so that even three decades later he recalled it as if it happened yesterday!
¶ For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Second Peter 1:16-18
When Christ conquered sin, death, and devil, He did so as the Lamb of GOD. His victory led to Him being reGlorified and declared as the Lord of all!
A REVELATION OF THE LORD OF GLORY LEADS TO WORSHIP
My pastoral prayer for you is that you will begin to have a growing revelation of glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the Scripture teaches us that as we worshipfully behold the glory of the Lord, it will “transform” us into the image of the One in whose image we were created. This is why I have gone to such great pains to discuss the Lordship of Christ in this series, and I hope – I pray – that indeed the eyes of your understanding about Who Christ is will be opened (Eph. 1:16-18) so that you will experience a new passion to worship our Lord and Glorious Saviour.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Second Corinthians 3:18
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