Jesus is the Messiah. What that means is understood through two statements: Jesus, the Lord as servant, and Jesus, the servant as Lord. The first speaks of Jesus’ calling to be a priest, and therefore make atonement for all of humanity. The second speaks of Jesus as King. The first speaks of Jesus as God humbled. The second speaks of Jesus as man exalted. His Kingdom and His throne are established through servanthood, and never through aggrandizement or ostentation. God has made His revelation of Himself to us in the man Jesus. What does it mean that He is a servant? What does it mean that that servant is Lord?
If Jesus is only a great prophet, a saint, a good teacher, and/or prime example of morality for us to conform our lives to, then Jesus was only dust. If He was only a man, even a good man, He was not the Messiah. Both Daniel and Micah speak of the Messiah in the Old Testament as being eternal (Daniel 7:13:14, Micah 5:2). You cannot have an eternal man. Yet, one of the paradoxes is that Jesus was indeed fully man. He was both fully man and fully God. He was both fully God and fully man. Neither of those two statements can be made before the other. He was ultimate humanity, but ultimate display of deity.
He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They gave the answers that they had heard: a prophet, Elijah, John the Baptist, a good teacher, etc. But Jesus turned the question around: Who do you say that I am? This one question is the whole of the faith. It is in the man Jesus Christ that God has revealed Himself. “If you see me, you have seen the Father.” It is in this that we don’t merely say that God was incarnate in Jesus. The incarnation is the paradox that Κύριος Ίησους Χριστός is the very name of God. Just as we address YHWH as God’s name, we too address Κύριος Ίησους Χριστός as God’s name.
Our understanding of Jesus is God revealed – God incarnate. This is not some sort of figment of our imaginations. Jesus is not God incarnate in the sense that He was what man was supposed to be (only human, though anointed and sinless), completely in communion with God. He is the second part of the Godhead – God in flesh. And this God is revealed through the man Jesus – the man who said He came not to be served, but to serve. We don’t call the incarnation a man that somehow displayed perfectly God’s character. Jesus displayed God’s character perfectly because He is God.
Our perception of God must entail this: that God is a servant. That does not mean that we can dictate and command as though He lives to serve us like a bellboy, but instead is defined through the Scripture, “They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Mark 2:17. God as servant raises questions that are rarely ever raised. To what extent is God a servant, and to what extent is He Lord? To what extent do we call Him our Master, and to what extent do we understand Him as a servant? Is it possible that this is the same statement worded two ways? What exactly does it mean to be Lord? Is it possible that the definition of Lord is not found simply because He is God, but instead because wisdom demands the one who humbles self ultimately must be promoted ultimately?
This is one of the great mysteries of the faith. Somehow, in the wisdom of God, to subject yourself as servant to all is to be exalted over all. There is an intrinsic nature that God has established that to divest self, to lose self, is to find self. Equally, to be the least is to be the greatest. God is not God because He is the creator. The statement is true, but it is more unreservedly true to say that God is God because He is servant. The fact that He is creator is secondary. He created because He serves. Yet, we don’t talk about God as being God only because He has shown humility. There is the obvious objection that is quite rational that God is God because of who He is. He is infinite, and we are not. He is holy, and we are only imitators of His holiness. It is true that God is called God simply because of who (or what) He is, yet that very statement makes my point perfectly: because of who He is. God is a servant in His very core. That is what makes Him God. Why? Everything else in God’s nature and character comes from His being a servant. Just think of His triunity. Each person serves the other two persons of the trinity, so that in everything God has always served.
One of the reasons that we claim Jesus – Lord as servant – is because of Jesus’ abode before His incarnation. Without understanding “whence He came,” we cannot be truly apprehended by what it means that He “came not to be served,” but rather, “to serve.” Jesus’ character was not a façade. He lived in keeping with the way He has always been. The foot washing, the cross, and Jesus’ words to the leper, “I am willing,” are all examples of God’s character as a servant to His creation.
Jesus “took off His garment” in order to “put on a towel” when He washed His disciple’s feet. Likewise, He had already “taken off His garment” in laying aside His deity, and already “put on a towel” in taking up an earthen vessel – incarnation. These things are not one-time events, but rather pointed and calibrated events that display all of God’s events. Because we have not sufficiently considered “when He came and where He went,” we have not considered the same question for ourselves.
Where have we come from, and where are we going? That question is miraculously answered in remarkable detail when we grasp more fully from whence Jesus came and where He went. Jesus freely and willingly forfeited heaven to be poured out. In like manner, we find that we ourselves have been made in God’s image to re-reveal the same pouring out of us. It is in the understanding of His being exalted after His pouring out that we can better endure our own going down into death.
It is precisely at this point that we enter our second statement: Jesus, the servant as Lord. Though Jesus was with God, and was God, from the beginning, it was upon His suffering and resurrection that He was then exalted and given a name above every name. It tells us in Hebrews 5:8 that Jesus learned obedience. We read in Philippians 2 that because He has humbled Himself, He has been exalted. Though these are both deep thoughts that need to be searched out and wrestled with, the fact of the matter is this same mystery has its working in us. We must learn obedience. Why? We are human. Jesus, in His humanity, had to learn obedience, even though He was a son, and even though He was God. In Christ’s birth into flesh and blood we find something quite intriguing. God has revealed Himself through humanity – specifically, the man Jesus. For God to reveal Himself is the question of being a mediator. For there to be a mediator between God and man, there must be a human that is somehow fallen, and yet without sin. Likewise, God must be the one to mediate, for no mere human being can see God and live.
To the degree that we understand these things – to that degree do we see the reality in ourselves. It takes both the revelation of it in God, and also the outworking in daily life, to be able to recognize and comprehend the incredible unknown. That unknown is revealed both to us and in us, or not at all. It is either both or none. For God to make it known, He has relied upon working in us the same mysteries so that we can better understand His character. We can better recognize the amazing ambiguity that we will one day see clearly.