The Descent

For let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus, who subsisting in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, having become in the likeness of men and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, having become obedient until death, even the death of a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (Green)

The journey of the Son of God from heaven to earth can be described in one word: humbling. The One who created all there is and holds everything together became a helpless baby. Even if Jesus were born into great royalty, it would be a mind-boggling descent from where He was before. But He was born in a stable, into a poor family. He was laid in a dirty cattle trough. He began His human life in very mean circumstances.

Jesus’ journey of humility only started in Bethlehem. His whole life was a continual descent into humility.

Soon after birth, the sovereign, all-powerful King of the Universe in human flesh had to be taken to Egypt by Mary and Joseph to protect Him from one man intent on killing Him 1. At twelve, He submitted Himself to His earthly parents upon being discovered doing His heavenly Father’s business 2.

At the beginning of His ministry He was baptized by one who did so to repentant sinners. Jesus had no need repent, but this baptism was His formal, public declaration that He lived to serve His Father, not Himself.

During His ministry, He associated Himself with the outcasts of society: the poor, sick, and unclean, sinners and those possessed by demons.

He also gathered to Himself disciples of the common people. He was their Master, their Lord. But at the end of His ministry, He told them:

I no longer call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his lord does. But I called you friends, because all things which I heard from My Father I made known to you.

– John 15:15 (Green)

It was not so much that Jesus raised His disciples up to His level, but that He stooped down to theirs – even below theirs, for He said this after He had washed His disciples’ feet.

In the garden, Jesus was repulsed by the thought of what He was about to go through. The physical suffering was bad enough, but the knowledge that He would be separated from His Father for the first time in all of eternity was almost too much for Him. He did not have to go through with it, but He continued His journey into the depths of humility, denying His desires and submitting to His Father’s will.

It was not enough that Jesus died to accomplish our redemption. He was mocked, spit at, punched, beaten, scourged, mocked again and abused, stripped, nailed to a cross, mocked some more, and abandoned by His disciples. No sacrificial animal went through what He did. But even though He was unjustly, painfully, and shamefully executed, His humility forbade any kind of self-pity or anger. He continued to see to it that His Father’s will was carried out, even after His Father had to turn His face away from Him.

And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani; that is, “My God, My God, why did You forsake Me?”

– Matthew 27:46 (Green)

This was the only time that the Trinity was suspended: Jesus was not any less deity, but the unity of God was interrupted.

I’ve been wondering why Jesus would say this. Surely as Son of God He knew it would come to this point. God cannot look on sin 3, so as He became sin for us 4, He knew His Father would have to look away. It wasn’t a surprise. And yet, Jesus wasn’t acting out a part, saying His lines just for our benefit and to fulfill a prophecy.

No, I believe the human side of Jesus could not have been prepared for the shock of experiencing separation from His Father. This was real anguish, and it could only be expressed in this way. And yet, even though this was unbearable, He sacrificed His emotional well-being and remained humble to the point of death, “even the death of a cross” 5.

The earthly life of Jesus was a continual descent into humility. And after that life was over, He finished His journey on this road with His descent into someone else’s grave 6.

All of this is very relevant to me, for when Jesus said “Follow Me”, He put me on the same road of humility He traveled. I must descend with Him. As John the Baptist said:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” 7

– John 3:30 (Green)

The Philippians 2 passage I quoted at the beginning speaks of the Son of God as the model for our lives. When Jesus found Himself in the form of man, He humbled Himself. Seeing this is the appropriate response to take for one found in human form, I also must humble myself.

I also must submit to those in authority over me, just as Jesus did to His parents.

I am no longer to live for self-interests, but to do my heavenly Father’s will. I am to die to self. This is what my baptism meant, too.

After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He told them He gave this example that they should do likewise. I must humble myself even more and lovingly serve others – even those that, like Judas, might hurt me. I must continue to love from the heart those who betray me.

Even though I will never be separated from my heavenly Father 8, it may be God’s will to bring me where I don’t want to go 9, that may be a horror to me. I must humble myself and to go through the trials anyway. I must continue to trust and obey God anyway 10.

I must be willing and humble enough to lay down my life also for my brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the sake of the kingdom of God 11.

As a disciple of Christ, I’ve been standing on the ever-descending road of humility for a long time. It’s a road that takes a lifetime to travel. It’s time I started walking it.

Likewise, younger ones be subject to older ones; and all being subject to one another. Put on humility, because God sets Himself against proud ones, but He gives grace to humble ones.

– 1 Peter 5:5 (Green)

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not take thought beforehand for the lusts of the flesh.

Romans 13:14 (Green)

So therefore we also, having so great cloud of witnesses lying around us, having laid aside every weight and the easily surrounding sin, through patience let us also run the race set before us, looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.

– Hebrews 12:1-2 (Green)

Notes:

  1. Matthew 2:13
  2. Luke 2:51
  3. Habakkuk 1:13
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:21
  5. Philippians 2:8
  6. Acts 2:31
  7. I wonder if what confused John the Baptist in Matthew 11:3 was that Jesus did not appear to be increasing as he expected.
  8. Romans 8:35-39
  9. John 21:18
  10. Psalm 23:4
  11. 1 John 3:16, John 15:12

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