Today, we will be contrasting man’s religious efforts, being self righteous, through the steps he takes, to Jesus’ stepping down into death for us.
By default, humans try to be self righteous. It is what all people apart from Christ do. They make their programs for self-improvement with various steps, rules, and laws. Their thinking is that if they keep taking the next step that they will better themselves, make themselves right, even be right with God; that is, they will reach heaven! This is the very definition of being self-righteous.
But the Bible tells us that there is only one way to God.
Let’s consider two passages of Scripture, which will illuminate this issue for us. At the end of the lesson, there will be one question to allow you the opportunity to summarize the teaching and share your thoughts:
The first Scripture passage is Genesis 11:1-4, and it says:
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, (by the way they didn’t ask God) “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-4 (NIV)
Here we read that God told the people to scatter over the face of the whole earth, but the people had other plans. In building their tower, they were rebelling against God. They were literally trying to build their way up to God in heaven. They were trying to put step upon step, brick upon brick until their tower reached heaven.
And this is always man's way; this is the world's way; this is how Satan wants to blind us to the message of the cross. Satan wants to get us to think about working our way 'up.' This is why every religion in the world focuses on the individual working their way 'up' to God, teaching us how to be self-righteous.
So, that's Genesis, chapter 11. A group of proud, industrious people who wanted to make a name for themselves by building a tower reaching up to God in heaven through their own efforts. Self righteous.
Now let’s consider Philippians 2:6-8:
[Jesus] “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phillippians 2:6-8 (NIV)
Here we see Jesus, the Lord of Glory, and His way of making us right with God. Look how far down Jesus kept going, look how low He continued to go, step after step after step, downward he went. The almighty God became a man; the perfect man became a servant, the servant humbled Himself to die as a criminal on a cross. Why? He died to raise you to a new life in Him. He came to earth to bring you to heaven; He died on a cross to make you righteous before God. He came down to lift you up. Believing this message doesn’t make you self-righteous, it makes you righteous.
It’s interesting in Genesis 11, the people wanted to make a name for themselves, by going higher and higher. But Jesus, by going lower and lower, was given “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
So, what can we learn from this contrast? First of all, we see the amazing length to which Jesus went. He just couldn't seem to go low enough for us: from heaven to earth, from God to man, from man to a servant, from a servant to being treated as a criminal. Jesus went from heaven to hell. He kept going lower for us. He couldn't go any lower than He went taking your sin upon Himself, wrapping it around himself like a garment.
He went to the cross, was stripped naked except for the garment of our sins, nails were pounded into His hands and feet, a crown of thorns was placed upon His head, and a soldier stabbed his heart and out came blood and water, and there He hung His head and died.
Jesus went to the lowest depths to raise you and me up to the highest heights of heaven, to save us from sin's penalty, to rescue us from sin's power, to redeem us from the curse of the law, and to make us righteous.
We could not do it; therefore, God did it for us. He made us righteous; He made it so that we who live by the Spirit are considered as if we have kept the full law (Romans 8:3). Why? Because Jesus was treated as a lawbreaker. Jesus was treated like a criminal that we might be counted righteous. What a Savior!
When we contrast the people in Genesis 11 with Jesus in Philippians 2, we can see the tremendous difference between man's ways and God's. Man focuses on working the steps, trying to climb higher, and God's way was to send His Son ever lower to the point of going to Sheol for you and me, to raise us up, to take us out of the pit, to release us from the chains, to break our iron chains, to open our prison doors, and to set us free.
I encourage you today (if you haven’t already) to turn away from all of man’s methods, from working your way anywhere, from working programs, and instead receive the glorious gifts of God through Christ. Receive the grace of the cross and the power of the Spirit that raises us and takes us out of sin and brings us to heaven where we worship the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus.
Thank you so much, Jesus, for how You lowered Yourself, for how far down You went to rescue us, for the lengths that You went like a waterfall going lower and lower. And now, Lord, help us to have Your mind, going lower and lower, seeking to humble ourselves into servanthood. Make us to give of ourselves, to give our lives away even as You did. Thank You, Jesus, Amen.
Setting Captives Free Publishing has written a book explaining much more about being self-righteous versus obtaining God's righteousness through the cross. We invite you to examine it and see the glories of the cross, the wonders of your deliverance and rescue, as you learn to look to Jesus in all circumstances in life.