The Profound Humility of Christ

Humility is the centerpiece of Christian life and the noblest virtue. Throughout the Bible, believers are called to humility. Jesus Christ modeled the most profound example of true humility.

The Apostle Paul described this in Philippians 2:5-8: Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

These verses describe the voluntary condescension of the Son of Man into human form. They affirm the main point of Christianity: that God became a man.

These verses present Jesus Christ’s descent from heaven to earth and to crucifixion in a series of explicit steps. It presents the heart and soul of Christianity: that the Son of God came to earth as a man to save sinners through his death and resurrection. Then he was exalted back to his rightful place in heaven. His work was both redemptive and exemplary.

In this passage, Jesus revealed the perfect model of humility showing it as self-denying, self-giving, and humble love. Verse 5 tells us to have this mind or attitude that is ours in Christ Jesus. Verse 3 elaborates: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.” Verse 2 exhorts us to “be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” He left a pattern for us to follow.

No human illustration is sufficient to demonstrate for us the kind of humility the Lord expects. Jesus set the standard of deep, profound, unfathomable sacrifice.

Our Lord came to earth in humility: born in a stable and then placed in an animal feeding trough. Growing up he lived in an ordinary town among common people. His earthly life constantly expressed humility. He had nowhere to lay his head and often slept “wherever”, many times outdoors with his ragtag disciples.

But at the same time, he was the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the King of Kings, the Head over all things. Jesus said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

For his coronation as King, he road into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey colt --- a symbol of humiliation. (John 12)

In John 13, Jesus’ disciples argued about who would be the greatest in his kingdom. None would stoop to wash the other’s feet --- the work of the lowest slave. So, Jesus himself stood and washed the disciples feet. Then He said, “What I’ve done to you, do to each other. The servant is not greater than his Lord.”

In Luke 22, the disciples disputed about who would be the greatest. Concluding his response Jesus said, “The Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In Matthew 23, he said, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Throughout his life Jesus made this clear: he came to humble himself. He modeled humility. In this Philippian 2 passage, his expression was the most profound.

We can’t copy Christ’s condescension because our humanity positions us so much lower. His position started in Heaven. He is God. He is perfect, and so able to redeem us. But by the power of His Spirit, we can follow his selfless humility.

Verse 5 is a transitional verse. “Have this attitude…” Before that, verses 1-4 exhort us to humility; and verses 6-8 illustrate what that looks like.

“Have this attitude…” be marked by unselfishness and humility of mind. Regard others and their interests as more significant than your own. This kind of humility manifests love and sacrifice; allows the church to bring glory and honor to its Head, the Lord Jesus.

We are to live out “unity” by emptying ourselves of selfishness and empty conceit, and replacing it with humility of mind.

Now Paul shows Christ’s descent step by step, into deeper and deeper levels of humility. Firstly, verse 6: He is the eternal God, so his self-humbling begins here. John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1 tell us: He is God the Creator; the exact representation of God. He existed eternally; and in his unchangeable essential nature is God. He started supremely higher than us, and descends considerably lower.

His sons and daughters share his exalted position. Our bodies are the temple of the Spirit of the living God. Yet, He alone is true God.

His essential essence as God never changes. But his outer appearance can change, for example, to light or fire. In the incarnation, his outward appearance took human form.

Secondly, His movement toward the incarnation started in his mind. He was equal to God; but never held that so tightly that he refused to let it go. He didn’t selfishly cling to all that was his; but was willing to be humbled.

Thirdly, in a profound step, He emptied himself of things that were rightly his because he was God. He didn’t stop being God, or become less than God. But He covered his heavenly glory.

He set aside his attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and immutability and confined himself in one human body. He “veiled” his glory in human form. Only at the Mount of Transfiguration did he pull back the flesh briefly to reveal his glory.

Next, He yielded authority to God the Father. Throughout the gospel of John, He repeats: I only do what the Father tells me; I do the Father’s will; Not my will, but yours be done.

In Hebrews 5:8, it says that Jesus “learned obedience”. God the Son “learned” obedience by submitting to God the Father’s authority. He gave up his authority as creator and sovereign of the universe and learned obedience.

Jesus yielded the manifestation of his heavenly glory. Confining himself to a human body, he gave up the full expression of his godhood. He gave up his privileges as God and the right to use his powers.

Next, He gave up vast heavenly riches and became poor. He was reduced to an ordinary man who owned little, and had nowhere to lay his head.

Then most importantly, he surrendered his rightful relationship with the Father. From the Cross he cried: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. He was the Lamb or God, God’s chosen sacrifice. He gave up his favorable relationship with the Father to suffer under God’s wrath. He became a slave.

And, Jesus took on flesh and blood and all the essential attributes of man, so that through death he could render powerless the devil, who had the power of death. He was made like his brethren in all things, to become a merciful and faithful high priest, and to make propitiation for the people’s sins. He was tempted, so he could aid those tempted. He could sympathize with people in their trials. He took the form of a man, to die in the place of men.

God appearing as a man. Fully and truly God; fully and truly man. God in nature and essence; man in nature and essence. Outwardly appearing as a man. The God-man.

This was his humiliation. He humbled himself further and further. God became a man. As a man, he identified himself as a slave to His Father. Further, He gave up his heavenly honors and rights; gave up his heavenly principles and possessions. He doesn’t argue or debate, demand, fight back or defend himself. He just goes lower.

How low? To death. He was the Lamb of God chosen as the sacrifice for sin. This was deep, deep condescension.

He came to do the will of the Father. He came to die. He says, “ No one takes my life from me, I lay it down myself.” It was a voluntary death.

Jesus went to the cross with strong crying and tears, sweating blood in the garden. As God, he understood what he was about to go through.

Paul said, “even death on a cross”. The most horrific, shameful, painful death known to man at that time. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no one than a man who lays down his life for his friends.”

He acted in stark contrast to sinful human responses of pride, self-will, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and demanding one’s own way. Instead, GOD lowered himself, even to death on a cross.

On that cross, He experienced something completely alien to him --- the wrath of the Father. Because of Christ’s extreme suffering at the crucifixion, no true believer will endure God’s wrath.

In Deuteronomy 21 it says, “ Whoever dies on a tree is cursed by God.” Here Jesus bore our curse on the tree. (Galatians 3).

This is humility so profound our human minds can’t grasp it.

Going back to verse 3: Jesus did nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counted others more important than himself. By his death and resurrection, he bought our salvation. He offers salvation to us as a free gift.

The Apostle Paul asks us: Do you think you have more rights to what you think is yours than what Jesus had to what was his? You cling to that and can’t humble yourselves?

Are you more privileged that the son of God? True, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, but all by God’s mercy and grace. You didn’t earn it.

If humility is the highest virtue, then are self-will and pride the ugliest sins?

Paul says, “Let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Humble yourself.

--- Beverly Nickles

(extracted from sermon by John MacArthur)

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