Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who,
though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with
God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the
form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found
in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient
to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Who was the only person with Jesus at His birth and with Him at His death? Yes, of course, His mother. Mary must have cried and screamed at His birth, and how she must have cried and screamed as she watched Him dying! When Mary presented baby Jesus in the temple she was warned by the godly Simon about the agony of Jesus’ death: “a sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:35).
A sword did pierce the soul of Jesus as He humbled Himself on the unspeakable, shameful cross. But that was His love for us. The cross was a scandal to everyone in Philippi and the entire Roman world. It was a means of execution reserved for the worst criminals among slaves and for the revolutionaries against Rome.
It is instructive that the word crucifixion comes from the Latin word for “torture” (cruciates). The Romans intended it to be prolonged, drawn-out agony, calling it summum supplicium (“ultimate punishment”). It is most unlikely that any Christian in first century Philippi wore a cross as a symbol of his faith or displayed one in the house churches. Try and imagine wearing a gas chamber pin on your lapel, or a gallows locket on your neck. The cross was an intended symbol of shame!
C.S. Lewis pointed out that the cross did not become Christian art until anyone who had ever witnessed a crucifixion had long since died. (Cited by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew) It was only after the Emperor Constantine banned crucifixions that Christians began to take the cross as a symbol of their faith.
The New Testament speaks of the “shame of the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) and every New Testament Christian felt it. “It is hardly accidental, in this regard, that Paul chose to portray Jesus as a crucified slave before a Philippian audience that lived in a municipality where slaves were the dregs of society and where Roman citizen status was such a highly valued social commodity.” (Joseph Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry)
God in a manger! God as a slave! God on a cross! Who would have dared to think or imagine such humble, self-forgetful love! Instead of exploiting equality with God for Himself, or trading it in for human power and prestige, Jesus came among us as the lowliest. “It is He who descends so deep down to man in order to lift him up so high.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2) Or, as Athanasius famously said, “God became what we are to make us what he is.” (Incarnation of the Word)
The earliest Christian theologians wrestled with how to communicate this mystery of the humble God coming down to us. Yet, they were in unison in saying that Jesus had to absorb all the wounds of the human family to save it. Gregory of Nazianzus perhaps said it best: “For that which He [Christ] has not assumed He has not healed.” (Epistle 101) Jesus bore in His heart all of the sin, suffering, heartache, and agony to redeem and save us! Here is how C. S. Lewis portrayed our humble God coming down to us in order to lift us up:
In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” (Miracles)
We know that physicians heal by prescribing medications, performing surgeries and procedures, and by teaching. But our Great Physician, Jesus, does something very different. He humbly takes on Himself all of our sin, infirmities, and suffering to heal us by His very life. This is our humble God who stooped so low to lift us up so very high!
- Karl Barth said of Jesus: “It is He who descends so deep down to man in order to lift him up so high.” Take a few moments to reflect on how low Jesus stooped in order to lift you so high.
- Jesus is the Great Physician who heals by taking our infirmities, guilt, and sin as His own. Talk to Jesus about having absorbed to Himself all the sin and evil of humanity.
“That the almighty God should so humble himself by
becoming incarnate in the helpless babe of Bethlehem and the
‘man of sorrows’ upon the cross, all the while retaining his
essential deity, constituted an act of such stupendous majesty
and power that it all but defies human comprehension.”
D. Densil Morgan, The Humble God: A Basic Course in Christian Doctrine