Much of the church’s theological reflection on Jesus suffers from a lack of depth. Most of what we think about centers around Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and his eventual return to take us home. These doctrines are true enough, and deeply profound, but there is so much more to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Jonty Rhodes, pastor of Christ Church Central Leeds in the UK, has written Man of Sorrows King of Glory in order to provide us with a more robust reflection on these dynamics. This is a book that exemplifies what theologically rich devotions should look like.
The book is broken down into three parts, each tracing the journey of the Son of God from heaven, to earth, to grave, and back to glory. Using the lyrics of the old hymn “Man of Sorrows,” Rhodes walks us through the humiliation and then the exaltation of Christ showing the relevance of each aspect of his life for our own. Part 1 sets the table for this extended reflection by speaking to our reductionist theology of Jesus and His cross. There is so much more to consider in both the person and the work of Jesus then we normally do. He speaks in these opening chapters of our tendency to disconnect the cross of Christ from the other aspects of His ministry, and to disconnect Christ from His ongoing ministry in our lives today. Rhodes sets readers up to see how the “threefold office of Christ,” as prophet, priest, and king, is interwoven throughout his whole ministry to us, both in the past and in the present. So, the cross, for example, is “Christ’s pulpit and throne as well as altar” (16). He is always functioning as prophet, priest, and king. By highlighting this threefold office in both the humiliation and the exalation of Christ, Rhodes gives readers greater insight into the ongoing relevance of Jesus for our own lives.
Part two starts the extended reflection on Christ’s humiliation. Christ experiences humiliation as prophet, priest, and king, and the broadness of that experience adds layers of depth to our understanding of our salvation. As Rhodes, when speaking of Christ as prophet, states it:
But until we see Jesus’ prophetic work as integral to our salvation, just as much as his priestly (or indeed kingly) work, we’ll miss the richness of that salvation. He is not Teacher as well as Savior: he is our Savior as Teacher. (59)
There is a tremendous amount of richness to be experienced and understood in reflecting on the humiliation of Christ, but we settle for only a small glimpse of that richness when our theological reflection consists merely of: Jesus died for sinners. Rhodes does a great job of expanding our vision of, and therefore our joy in, the humiliation of Christ.
Part 3 turns attention to the exaltation of Christ. This is a much neglected doctrine within the church. All our focus is on the death and resurrection, but with little (if any) reflection on the ascension of Christ. In particular, Rhodes demonstrates that the exaltation of Christ does not remove Him from our daily experience. He has an ongoing ministry as prophet, priest, and king, in our lives today. Understanding the exaltation more thoroughly highlights this ministry in profound and edifying ways. So, for example, when reflect on our own sinfulness as believers, we need not fear that sin means we have lost our salvation. Christ’s ongoing active role as priest in His exaltation means that he “ever lives to plead for me,” as the hymn says (129-131).
This is a beautiful book. In many regards it feels as though it builds on the work that Dane Ortlund has done in Gentle and Lowly by giving us a vision of Christ’s love and care for sinners and sufferers. It focuses uniquely on His humiliation and exaltation but it is very focused on personal application of these doctrines. Rhodes also explores a number of complex theological concepts, such as the two natures within the one person of Christ (human and divine), the nature of the Trinity, and penal substitutionary atonement. Yet, all the doctrine he works through he does so in an incredibly accessible fashion and with a bent towards relevance to the reader. This is a robust devotional. I found myself both appreciating the way he communicates complex doctrine, and emotionally moved by his reflections on Jesus’ care for me. This is what good devotional work should look like. I highly recommend this book and trust it will be a rich blessing to many!