The Humility of the Cross
‘Since man sinned,’ wrote the Reformer Zacharias Ursinus, ‘it was necessary for man to make satisfaction for sin.’ Or, in the words of Augustine, who perhaps was the greatest theologian of the early church, ‘The very same nature was to be assumed, which was to be delivered.’
The humility of Jesus Christ was totally unprecedented. It was an absolute reversal of the values of this world. ‘He humbled himself,’ the Scripture says, indicating a voluntary humility. Just as the Son of God emptied Himself and made Himself nothing (Phil. 2:7), so also he made Himself humble. The humiliation of Jesus Christ was an act of willing condescension and voluntary self-renunciation.
If we were to page through the Gospels, we could identify many examples of the humility of Jesus Christ. But as he traced the path of redemption in its downward arc, Paul contented himself with Christ’s single greatest act of humility: He ‘[became] obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (2:8).
Here Paul answers a question that was posed by the haunting lyrics of a popular 1995 song by Joan Osborne that probed the possibility of the incarnation. ‘What if God was one of us?’ Osborne crooned. ‘Just the same as one of us. Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home, just back to heaven all alone.’
What if God was one of us? What would it have been like for Him to participate in all of the tedium and banality of human existence? Actually, there is no need to speculate. No ‘ifs’ about it: God did become one of us. We can read all about it in the most thoroughly attested historical documents from the ancient world: The Gospels of the New Testament. Nor was Jesus trying to make His way back home all on His own. He was strengthened by the Holy Spirit and supported by His intimate fellowship with God the Father every step of the way.
But a deeper problem with Osborne’s song, from a biblical standpoint, is that the Jesus it presents is not humiliated enough. Osborne’s Jesus is a pitiable figure. We see him lonely on the bus, friendless and forlorn in a fallen world. The melancholy man seems forsaken by God, uncertain of his eternal destiny, abandoned to work out his own salvation. But the humiliation of Jesus’ true incarnation was much worse! His path swept much lower than a crowded bus on a city street. The obedience of Christ was an obedience all the way to the death. Dying on the cross was obedience to the nth degree, to the absolute extremity of death.
This superlative obedience demonstrated both the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ. Death cannot be an act of obedience for mere human beings. Whether we willingly submit to death or not, we all must die. Only God the Son, as very God of very God, could submit Himself to death in an act of voluntary obedience.
At the same time, the obedience of Christ unto death demonstrated His humanity. Jesus could have chosen to exchange His humility back again for glory. But Jesus rejected that easy road. He rejected it because there could be no salvation from sin without atonement for sin. So Jesus Christ chose to follow the via dolorosa (road of suffering) of the path of redemption. He was obedient unto death. Of this truth, John Chrysostom, who was called ‘Golden Tongue’ due to his preaching skills, said of this passage, ‘words fail me.’
Words do fail us, when we consider the glory of the humility of the cross of Jesus. Join us this Sunday as Chad preaches for us on the humility of the cross. What does this mean for our lives as followers of Christ? How can we have this mind of Christ? Chad will share with us the power of humility in the humility of the cross. Remember to pray for our services and invite someone to come along with you this week.
Michelle and I look forward to returning and being with you in worship this next week. We give thanks to God for your allowing us to be with our oldest daughter and her family in California. We have been praying for you.
Grace and peace,