Subtraction (#13)

He might have reared a palace at a word,
Who sometimes had not where to lay His head.
Time was when He who nourished crowds with bread,
Would not one meal unto Himself afford.
He healed another’s scratch, His own side bled;
Side, hands and feet with cruel piercings gored.
Twelve legions girded with angelic sword
Stood at His beck, the scorned and buffeted.
Oh, wonderful the wonders left undone!
Yet not more wonderful than those He wrought!
Oh, self-restraint, surpassing human thought!
To have all power, yet be as having none!
Oh, self-denying love, that thought alone
For needs of others, never for its own!

Richard Trench

“And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.” (Luke 4:2)

In Arthur Wallis’ book on fasting, he points out how experience corroborates the experience of Jesus in this verse. When the human body is deprived, the brain stops sending hunger signals, and it can go many days without food and without discomfort. But at the end of a forty-day fast, the hunger returns as a signal that you are in danger of starvation. “Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were ended, he was hungry.” This signals that his body was in a dangerous state of deprivation. The Son of God himself was starving.

Why would Jesus deprive himself willingly? Jesus does not make many hypothetical statements, but he told his disciples in Gethsemane that, hypothetically, he could ask God to send a whole legion of angels to defend him. For that matter, if he could, why didn’t he? And if he could turn stones into bread, why didn’t he?

Paul writes that Jesus “emptied himself” of all the glory and power of deity without emptying himself of the character of God. In theological terms, he surrendered his “deity” (godlikeness) without surrendering his “divinity” (godliness). This is what Richard Trench called “self-restraint, surpassing human thought!” We own Jesus to be both God and man, yet he did not use the privileges of deity to save himself from pain. Truly Christ was thirsty at Calvary, was hungry in the desert, was weary in Samaria, because he chose to live as we live.

“He emptied himself of his divine glory, and laid his divine attributes, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, under temporary voluntary limitations.”

We may ask ourselves what would prompt God to practice such self-restraint in the person of Jesus—to be nearer than he has ever been to his people, and yet to command people not to leak the truth about his Messiahship; to heal secretly and then commission his disciples to spread openly the truth about his Gospel.

Does this seem a strange act on God’s part? Or is it only one token of God’s ways with men from the Fall to the Day of Judgment? Is God practicing self-restraint even now? He could answer all questions and right all wrongs, but this is not how he has chosen to govern providence. Man is not ready for all that God would give. Sometimes a parent’s best moments are in what they choose not to say or do.

G. K. Chesterton has a beautiful poem about a great and wondrous tree, more powerful than all life. He sees great injustice, and life is fierce and cruel under his canopy. Yet the tree dares not to move, lest a single moth be killed.

God, the mighty and almighty, chose to walk in weakness and weariness in Jesus. All knowledge and all miracles do not unfold to me the tender heart of God as clearly as this one fact: The Son of God was hungry.

Father, thank you that you sent your Son to live as we live, and to walk in weakness as we walk in weakness. Thank you for your great sympathy, that endured weariness and pain to lead many to righteousness.

Amen.

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