In preparation for Holy Week, I invite you to meditate on a second verse of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn, ‘And Can it Be.’
He left His Father’s throne above –
So free, so infinite his grace –
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!
These words express what Christians have called the ‘kenosis’ or self-emptying of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2:6-11. There it says that although Jesus was ‘in very nature God’ he ‘made himself nothing . . . being made in human likeness.’ Jesus gave up something important when he was born in Bethlehem.
You see, unlike any other person ever born, Jesus existed prior to his birth. Since Jesus is God, he existed eternally in the past. His birth required leaving ‘His Father’s throne above’ and emptying himself of all the glory and privileges of deity. By becoming human Jesus gave up the use of his divine resources. He was still fully divine but he relinquished the right to use those powers. For example, he gave up the use of his infinite might to become a helpless fetus, a baby, a child, an adolescent, an adult man, able to die.
Wesley points out that Jesus made this startling condescension to our weak human state freely, graciously, out of love for ‘Adam’s helpless race.’ He marvels at such immense and free mercy! God knew that there was simply no other way we could be rescued because we are completely helpless to save ourselves.
Lastly, Wesley registers his own personal astonishment over God’s mercy when he exclaims ‘O my God, it found out me!’ This is no dead religious doctrine! It transports one into ecstasy! To think that when I was lying helpless on the ground with nothing to give or say, Jesus emptied Himself of heaven’s bliss in order to come down to the dust and bleed for my reclamation! ‘Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?’