Our Humiliation 

 

Central to God’s plan of atonement is the idea that the Lord Jesus was our representative; that we are in Him and He is to be in us. His path to glory becomes ours. He, a man of our nature, who grew up as a working man in an obscure small town in a backwater of a great empire where His race were marginalized… who knew all about caring for kid brothers and sisters when there was little cash and food on the table… and His mum being viewed askance in the neighbourhood, talk of pregnancy out of wedlock and all that… This man was the one who rose up to be somehow more than man, developing a perfect mind, never sinning, in commission nor omission, and came to have nothing less than the mind of God. We are not to merely look on at Him as spectators at a show, nor as Orthodox believers view an icon or steeple crucifix from afar, feeling they can never realistically aspire to His achievement. The message of the Lord’s humanity and representative human nature seems so simple- perhaps the subconscious, psychological reason for its mass rejection is that it actually demands so, so much from us. For He there, crucified naked with the mind of God within Him, is to be us here today in the hot blood of our situations and temptations.

Throughout Phlilippians, Paul develops this theme- that we, here and now, can have the mind of Christ, and pass through the essence of what He passed through in His humiliation and exaltation. The central passage in Philippians is the hymn of Phil. 2:5-11: “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though being in the mental image of God, did not consider grasping at being equal with God, but poured himself out, taking the mental attitude of a servant…”. But the context begins in Phil. 1:27, with an appeal to be “standing fast in one spirit, with one mind…”. This doesn’t mean we should all think about everything the same way- for Biblical unity is not uniformity. And the New Testament history is evidence enough that the early believers were far from uniform in everything. The “one mind” we should strive for is the mind of Christ- He is the “one” whose mind we should each seek to emulate. Our unity is on the basis that you here and her there and they over there in Australia or Kosovo or Nairobi are all seeking above all to think and feel as Jesus did, having His mind. That is the law of our being, thinking and action which all in the body of Christ have signed up to as the paramount aspiration of our whole lives and being. The hymn of Phil. 2:5-11 matches the seven stages of the Lord’s humiliation, climaxing in “death, even the death of the cross”, with seven stages of His exaltation. His path is to be ours- progressive humiliation climaxing in death, as a prelude to our exaltation.

 

           Being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

           But made himself of no reputation, and

           took upon him the form of a servant, and

           was made in the likeness of men:

           And being found in fashion as a man,

           he humbled himself, and

           became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8)

 

           Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and

           gave him a name which is above every name:

           That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

           of things in heaven, and

           things in earth, and

           things under the earth;

           And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

 

Paul wrote that the Lord “humbled Himself”, but uses the same Greek word to speak of how we too shall have “the body of our humiliation [AV “this vile body”] changed that it may be like unto the body of His glorification” (Phil. 2:8; 3:21). So you see how the argument is developing. His body, His mind, is to be ours. Our death is His death. He “tasted death for every man” in Christ (Heb. 2:9). So that His resurrection shall be ours. We are made, in an ongoing sense, con-formable unto His morphe or ‘form’ in death (Phil. 3:10). The end point of the humiliation process is that by our deaths, we shall have the mind which Christ had in His death on the cross. Our weekly remembrances of Him in bread and wine are intended to be stakes along the path which leads us to that final point of mental, spiritual maturity. Paul saw this process happening in his own life, for he concludes his letter to the Philippians by using the same word about himself: “I know how to be humiliated” (AV “how to be abased”; Phil. 4:12). This transforms our thinking about death- how we die is significant. Old age and death is not, therefore, a fading away into insignificance. Ezekiel warns that a man may live a good life and at the end, fall away- and is counted as having fallen away; or that a man may live a bad life but at the end repent and be eternally accepted. How we end is significant. So as you see an old person coming to the end of their lives- they are actually on the final burst towards the end of the race, they are approaching the final humiliation. So that they might rise in glory. Indeed, there is a clear Biblical association between ‘death’ and ‘glory’. Just search out those two ideas together in a concordance. Paul concludes that death works in us, to prepare us for glory (2 Cor. 4:12). The process of mortality and humiliation is working for us the eternal weight of glory. Death- we, as decaying calcium and dreams reduced to dust- magnifies Christ, in this wonderful way (Phil. 1:20). This V-shaped pattern of humiliation now and exaltation later is therefore the essence of the Christian life, of the life committed to unity with Him. For His path is ours. At baptism, we sign up to the principle that His death shall be ours- in an ongoing sense, and in a final, literal sense as well.

Every adult body is in decline. Faculties and memory fade and fail. But this has meaning, in the bigger picture of our humiliation. These experiences are not for us mere frustrations; they are part of having “the body of our humiliation”, and if we respond to them rightly, they are the path to exaltation eternally- rather than a path to an inevitable end. There is thereby a dignity and immense meaning attached to our physical decline. Our loneliness forges a further link between us and the forsaken, existentially alone Christ of the cross. And there are other ways in which a loving Father progresses the humiliation process. False accusation may descend upon us, and we are left friendless, rejected and not understood by former family and friends. Our sin itself is used by God; He doesn’t turn away from us in disgust and cease working with us because of our failure. She who secretly prides herself at her morally upright life finds herself caught in an uncharacteristic sin. He who always keeps the speed limit is snapped by the speed camera. Or we may simply feel that we have not done as well as we might have done in secular life- we worked more diligently, with slightly higher intelligence than others who did better than us, and yet we never moved far beyond minimum wage. And we may feel the same about the home we ended up with, the family… and so forth. And we may well be right. We didn’t do as well as we might or even should have done. But that’s OK. These things too are part of the bigger plan of our humiliation.

There are things we are good at, and know we’re good at them. And in those very things we may fail. The talented plumber makes an inexplicable mess of a job. The fluent speaker of a foreign language finds themselves publically floundering for a basic word. Our human strength is taken away, whether through the loss of power which goes with advancing years, or through more dramatic event. A good inheritance is lost by an unforeseen blunder or circumstance. War breaks out, the careful middle class life is brought to an end, your home is in ruins and your savings meaningless- and you are left standing on a railway platform in a foreign land with your screaming, once pampered kids, begging for soup and at least a place to sit down on.

In the lives of believers, these things are not random event. They have meaning, within the process of our humiliation, and God’s wondrous plan to do us good in our latter end. Perhaps we find ourselves facing a situation that our upbringing and culture never addressed; we are alone, humiliated, before our God. This is what happened to Israel and to the Lord in the wilderness: “He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Dt. 8:3). The tragedy is that so many fail to respond as intended to the humbling hand of God as a loving Father. The Hebrew word there translated “humbled” is so often used about the afflictions of Israel- in Egypt, in the wilderness, at the hands of their invaders. But they wriggled against it, their bitterness driving them deep within themselves rather than to God and His Son. This is the enduring tragedy of Israel, and Jewish history. And it is the same with so many lives today.

Job is a classic example of our humiliation, although his exaltation was achieved even in this life. We see the end of the Lord, that He is very pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). And out of that dialogue came the statement: “All these things worketh God oftentimes with man” (Job 33:29). We see this to be true throughout the Bible and our own experience, both of ourselves and of others in our lives And in all these things, man is not alone. God is with us, Emmanuel, in Christ- in the sense that the humiliation of our minds and bodies is in order to forge ever further and deeper our connection with Him.  For we are “in Christ”. Our baptisms signed us into covenant with His death and His life eternal, world without end: “For the death that he died, he died to sin once, but the life that he lives, he lives to God… We were buried therefore with him through a baptism into his death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:4,5,10).

 

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