Jesus, the First Born
by Sara Nolt
This article appeared in the January/February 2016 Daughters of Promise print edition.
"He goeth before!" There is music in that line. To the redeemed, this is a song of praise and triumph for in it lies a definition of our relationship with Jesus. He, like an older sibling showing a younger one how to succeed in the middle of adversity, has gone before us to show it is possible to live a life of fulfillment in difficult circumstances. It is Jesus, the Firstborn, who has gone before us. We need only to follow in His steps. That is all.
Look up, look up into his face and worship. Together, let’s take a moment to look at Jesus’ life and ministry and allow ourselves to be amazed by Him.
It begins with Mary, his mother, agonizing through pangs of labor in a room that was not filled with the antiseptic scent of sanitation befitting a birthing room, nor was she strengthened by words of a kindly midwife. She smelled only a barn where the restless stamp of animal hooves replaced the midwife’s gentle voice. Perhaps the sting and indignity of giving birth to her firstborn in a barn was lessened by knowing this event was a fulfillment of the prophecies throughout the ages. Or maybe being relegated to a stable to deliver the child added to her misery. However it was, in an agonizing moment, he was born. Her first son. The angels’ song announcing the birth was a thrill to the shepherds for they had never heard heavenly music before. But the song of the angels wasn’t new to the Baby for his Father had said, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” (Hebrews 1:6) And they did.
The little children on the street who played with him called him Jesus. So did his younger siblings who wore the clothes he outgrew. His mother said, “Jesus,” when she called him to her side. But his Father, like fathers often do, had special names for His son. He called him, “Emanuel. The Everlasting Father. The Mighty God. The Wonderful. The Counsellor. The Prince of Peace.”
His Father remembered a day long ago when this child sat by His side in the throne room of heaven and watched in joy as the world with all its intricate detail was spoken into existence. Only he wasn’t a child then. He was “one with the Father,” an awesome truth he was unashamed of. But his critics grew angry when he mentioned it. They scorned. They strategized, wanting His death.
But the Father knew. And the Son, He knew, too, and remembered why he was putting up with the scoffers who had no idea what they were saying. He thought back to the days of Creation and the man They had so lovingly designed. He remembered the sorrow when man sinned and broke the relationship with His Creator. He remembered the endless, joyous worship the angels in heaven gave to His Father. Then, seeing the eternal picture, Jesus knew there was something He could do to make the worship of heaven fuller in expression, more glorious and wonderful. He could become the Firstborn among many, making a way for generations to come worship His Father. Then, when the Redeemed joined the angels singing, the songs of heaven would be sweeter and fuller and complete.
Doing this would require the ultimate sacrifice, yet knowing the cost, He chose to willingly leave the luxuries of heaven to come to an earth where he had no place to rest his head. Instead of heaven’s shimmering, golden streets, he chose to walk on earthen roads where dust caked his feet and dirtied his clothes. He left the sweetness of face-to-face fellowship with His Father and exchanged it for crowds of clamoring, needy people. He even chose death, and silently let the rabble mock him and shame him and scoff at his claim that he was in existence before Abraham.
Then, spitefully, they nailed him to a Cross. This wasn’t the kind of cross that glaziers fashion in stained glass windows, designed to cast cheerful yellow and purple rainbows around a sanctuary. Nor was it the kind of cross that a silversmith crafts with fancy corners softening a gruesome instrument into something so pretty people wear it on dainty silver strands as decoration. This was the kind of cross meant to kill a man. Life was exchanged for death in a drawn-out, agonizing process.
Our Big Brother. If you have an earthly sibling whom you love and cringe at the thought of him writhing in agony on a splintered piece of wood, weep for a moment at the thought of your Heavenly Brother who suffered not only death on the cross, but also separation from the Father with Whom He had been one since before the worlds were created.
The unthinkable truly happened. Jesus, the Son of God, died. With a mighty, “It is finished!” life fled and Emanuel, the loving Prince of Peace, was dead.
The ones listening to him on the rocky hillside had no idea of the implication of his last words. They might have thought he referred to his life and ministry or maybe even to the dream of a kingdom folks thought he would build to deliver them from the Romans. They had no idea what his words meant.
But the shuddering earth knew. And Death knew exactly what that phrase implied when its clammy fingers found themselves grasping, groping, and losing their hold on the greatest trophy they had ever touched. Effortlessly, Jesus shook off Death in a mighty display of resurrection power. Death cowered, knowing its sting had been forever removed for those who would follow in the steps of this Risen One.
The Firstborn didn’t need the rocky crib the Tomb offered. But the women didn’t know. They came, weeping, and expecting to find their Hope lifeless and cold. What they didn’t know was that the phrase “It is finished!” would echo in power throughout the ages. Separation was done away with forever. Not just between the Father and the Son, but also between the Father and the man he had created. The veil of that separation has been rent so completely that now nothing but blatant sin can ever bar the redeemed from their Father again. Not life. Not death. Not angels. Not principalities. Not powers. Nothing present. Nor anything to come.
His mission fully accomplished, the Firstborn gloriously ascended back to God’s right hand. The angels rejoiced at his homecoming, the Father was satisfied, and the estranged sons wept throughout the ages for the joy of having Forgiveness granted, Communion restored, and Oneness reestablished between themselves and El Elyon, the Most High God.
But what is the significance of a firstborn and how does this title of Jesus apply to us?
The Old Testament generations knew what it meant to be the firstborn son. They understood why the Egyptian firstborns were singled out for death in the final plague. They regularly paid money to redeem their own firstborn sons and sacrificed firstborn animals to the Lord. Firstborns were considered the best, the honored ones and the eldest sons given a place of superiority.
To them was given the responsibility and care of their mother and unmarried siblings should the patriarch of the family pass away. It is possible, then, that Jesus was fulfilling part of his duty as a firstborn when on the cross he gave the care of his mother over to the disciple he loved so much. And to us, his younger sisters, he says, “I’m going to prepare a place for you but I’ll come back one day and take you to my home so you can be where I am.” (John 14:2,3 paraphrased) Jesus fulfilling his responsibility as a firstborn ensures us a secure, loving home in heaven for all Eternity.
Firstborns have a position of authority and superiority. The devils recognized Jesus’ authority and fled at His command. The fig tree withered at his word. To us he says, “All power is given unto me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations. . .and lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:18-20, in part) This power and authority allows us to fight spiritual battles and win them. Jesus also tells us we can come to him with all our needs, ask of him anything, and he will do it. By exercising this right of the firstborn, the church is wonderfully provided for and His ultimate goal is accomplished: His Father is glorified.
Old Testament firstborns receive a place of honor; the Heavenly firstborn receives no less. Recognizing his son’s work of restoration, the Father has referred to His collection of redeemed children as “the church of the firstborn.” (Hebrews 12:23) Even now, Jesus is seated on his Father’s right hand, a place of honor. In Eternity, more honor will be given to Jesus when the redeemed arrive in glory and gladly cast their crowns at their Savior’s feet in gratefulness for his work of salvation.
Firstborns received a double inheritance. What a big brother is ours, for instead of keeping the wealth to himself, Jesus promised that we will be joint heirs with him. Spurgeon said, “To have anything to do with a great man is thought by some persons to be a distinguished mark of honor; to be set down in a will as co-heir with some great prince or noble would be considered indeed a great thing; but what honor is conferred upon thee, believer, to be joint heir with the King of kings, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”¹
But what is this inheritance and when will we receive it?
Today we have been granted forgiveness and an eternal salvation.
Today our sins have been forgotten and cast far away from us, making us accepted in God’s sight.
Today we have the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead working in us and giving us victory over self and sin.
Today we have inner peace, underlying joy, and hope of an eternal tomorrow.
Today we have full access to the throne of God, through prayer.
Tomorrow we have heaven, the home Jesus provides for us, and face-to-face communion with God.
All of these blessings are our eternal inheritance. But there is more. It would be foolish to assume we can choose to accept only the nicest portions of an inherited estate, Spurgeon suggests, and refuse the edges with the swamp or the rocks. In order to gain the heavenly blessings, we must necessarily share the harder portion of Christ’s inheritance. You cannot choose one and not the other.¹ Suffering, then, is ours along with the inherited blessings.
But take heart, for Jesus, the Firstborn, has gone before us to show us how to live with both honor and suffering. From his very induction on earth, affliction dogged his footsteps even while honor crowned his head.
Angels sang, shepherds came, and wise men worshipped; but even then hunters were arming themselves to kill him lest he damage their kingdom. He taught not only in the Temple where highly esteemed men rustled in robes of righteousness but he reached down and out to those demoralized by demons, dirtied by disease, and saturated in sin. A worshipping crowd honored him with waving palm branches and a path paved with their very coats; quite another crowd hailed him as king. They did all the right things to honor a king –they gave him a crown, said the right words, and bent their knee. But instead of honor, it was all cruel mockery. The crown was a circle of thorns, the “Hail King” dripped with sarcasm, and the bent knee showed no reverence. Even his death was marked with the two, for while the cruelty and suffering cost him his life, he saw ahead to eternity and the “joy that was set before him” helped him to endure the cross and bear the shame and injustice of it.
Suffering and honor. Throughout his life the one companion forever held his right hand and the other his left. Now to us, His hand of suffering beckons us to follow Him down the second mile, though it is fraught with hardship. But in the other hand, he reveals the eternal blessings that will come to us if we follow him, though it cost us everything. In doing so, we will do well to view suffering as Jesus did, ephemeral (short-lived), and blessings as eternal (never ending).
“He goeth before.” The loving Firstborn goes before you, dear sister, through the hardest thing you have ever known. He has gone through separation and loneliness. He faced cruelty and injustice. He knows what it is like to leave the familiar and go to the strangeness of new territories. He faced temptation and resisted it without sinning. He has even gone through death and conquered it, offering power over sin and hope beyond the grave. In doing so, He has made it possible for you to have fellowship with God, His Father, and has given you life eternal to spend in glory with Him.
“He goeth before” is a song of praise and triumph sung by those following fearlessly in the steps of the Firstborn. Won’t you join them? Come. Follow Him. And worship.