**This post is adapted from a short sermon I preached. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, or other podcast apps. You can listen to the sermon audio here:
We sing often this time of year about Christ being born as a baby in Bethlehem, and we rightly reflect upon Christ’s incarnation, that is, his willingness to be born of a woman, to take on a full human nature and be all that it is to be a human like me and you. And in that we see the humility of Christ our king.
But Christ’s incarnation, his taking on flesh, is just one instance demonstrating his humility. Indeed, his whole life was one long chain of self-emptying humility, of stooping down, and theologians call this phase of Christ’s existence his state of humiliation. Today, I’d like to walk through the steps of his state of humiliation, so that we can see the humility of our king on display, and then at the end I will talk about some lessons we can learn about him and his work that will be an encouragement for us during this holiday season.
First, consider Christ’s Descension. He willingly left his position in glory and his status of glory to come down to us. He prayed about this glory in John 17:5 when he prayed asking the Father to grant him the glory that he had before the foundation of the world. Christ veiled the glory of his divine nature behind the frail weakness of a human nature.
And that leads to the next step, his Incarnation, which we specifically celebrate at Christmas. His incarnation was his willingness to take on flesh, which really is the miracle of all miracles in the bible, and is what we’ve heard about tonight. And even though he was in the line of David, king of Israel, his regal lineage didn’t even merit them room in the local Inn in Bethlehem. Imagine, the unchanging God taking on the weakness of mortality. The creator of the universe laying in a cattle trough. The Lord of all things, being born in a barn. Such condescension. Such self-emptying. Such humiliation.
But the humiliation didn’t stop with his birth; his life was lived in poverty. Those same things extend throughout his life. He was born to a family headed by a carpenter. The king of kings was born to a life of hard manual labor. And when they went to present the young Jesus at the temple, Luke 2 tells us that they presented a pair of turtle doves, which was the poorest offering admitted under the law of Moses. They didn’t have money for a lamb. The king of all glory was born to a family in poverty. He deserved Robes of purple and fine linen, but instead stooped down to rags.
And no sooner had he been born than the attacks began against him. Herod sought to kill him, which lead to Jesus being driven to Egypt, such like Israel had been before him. And when he returned, they didn’t settle in Jerusalem or Jericho. They settled in Nazareth. A backwater town with no claim to fame, no rabbinical school. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” some would ask. Indeed, Jesus was despised and rejected by men, as Isaiah prophesied.
And when Jesus’s ministry began, he was immediately subjected to temptation by the devil himself in the desert. But unlike Israel, which passed through its baptism in the Red sea and then floundered for 40 years and failed in its temptation, Jesus was baptized by John, was led into the desert, fasted for forty days, and successfully resisted the best Satan had to offer. Imagine, Satan tried to entice with sin the God of all holiness and righteousness. How offensive it must have been to him, to have evil offered up to a person of such purity. But, as one puritan wrote, “In His holy soul was no fuel to be kindled by the fiery darts” of Satan.
But this trial was not a one-time event. Indeed, his whole life was a series of afflictions. Just as he was born poor, he also lived and died poor. He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). Throughout his ministry we see that he often subsisted off of the charity of some poor, saintly women. He knew what it was to suffer hunger, and lack.
His afflictions did not stop there. He was ever a man of sorrows. He was the victim of grief, as seen in his response to Lazarus’ death. He was subject to disappointment. He was wronged. He was slandered. He was insulted: called a drunkard and a sinner. He was rejected. John 1 tells us that, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own people, but they received him not.” He was truly despised, and the world esteemed him not, as Isaiah says.
Some tried to stone him. Some tried to trap him. Some tried to frame him. Some sought to end his life.
Can you believe that he willingly undertook such a mission? What humiliation? What condescension to rescue his people? What love to redeem a bride.
But his humiliation hadn’t ended yet. He further suffered by being betrayed by one of his own. Judas, one of the twelve disciples, betrayed him, for a bag of silver. Imagine, the all-trustworthy God of light, being stabbed in the back by one of his own. So low.
And then, to bring him even lower, the All-knowing God of the universe is put through a sham of a trial, a mockery of justice, before the eternal judge of all things. The clearly unjust condemning the king of righteousness. The murderous condemning the son of love. The prideful condemning to death the meek and lowly.
And during all this, his disciples abandoned him. He was alone. Indeed, even the boldest of his disciples, that is Peter, denied him three times. How much lower could Christ sink? But the humiliation continued.
He was then beaten. Whipped and scourged. Forced to carry his own wooden cross up the hill to the place where he would be nailed to it. And then, when all had been accomplished, he was said into the grave, the final step in his mission of humiliation.
You might be saying, “Pastor, How is this an encouragement to us, and why are you talking about such depressing things? This is Christmas”
Well, Christ’s state of humiliation is encouraging to us in many ways:
- First, His willingness to undergo such humiliation demonstrates his love for his people. We don’t have to wonder how much God loves us, he has demonstrated through his Son the depths of love that he possesses toward his beloved. Willingly embracing a mission that would include such humiliation and suffering shows us the seeming boundless nature of God’s affection. Christ’s humiliation demonstrates his love for his people.
- Second, His willingness to undergo such humiliation makes him the fitting substitute for his people. Christ had to descend and take on human flesh, all aspects of a human nature, if he were to become a fitting substitute for us. An angel couldn’t be our substitute. A dog or cat or lamb or goat could never be our substitute. It was necessary for him to fully man if he were to serve in the place of any of us. Christ has born the punishment that we owed to God for our sins. You see the bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death. When we speak unkindly, or grumble and complain, or covet and are jealous, we earn death. But, because he was fully man, then we know that he was a fitting sacrifice in our place. If we have repented of our sins and believed in his promise of salvation, then there is nothing left for us to do. The lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world has actually done that. He was a sufficient offering of atonement in our place and for our sins. Be encouraged that he was the fitting substitute for his people.
- But not only was he a fitting substitute for us, His willingness to undergo such humiliation means that he has fully merited salvation for his people. Not only has he removed the sentence of death that hung over us, but he has positively earned eternal life for any that would come to him in faith. Not only has he taken us out of hell, he has placed us into heaven, and he has done this because his life of suffering was meritorious for all of his people. He has fully merited salvation for his people.
- Fourth, His willingness to undergo such humiliation makes him a sympathetic high priest for his people. Because he has suffered the lowest of lows, he knows what it is like for us to suffer as well. He’s not a distant God that is unfamiliar with agony and grief. He knows what it is like to feel the loneliness that many feel this time of year. He was abandoned and lonely as he hung on the cross. He knows what it is like to feel pain. He’s not some distant God unable to sympathize with us in failing, aching bodies. He knows what it is like to feel betrayed and hurt. He knows what it is like to be slandered. He can sympathize with us, and that makes it all the easier to go to him and trust him. When he says he can provide us comfort and peace, we can know that promise is not empty and hollow, because he is a high priest that has walked the same paths, and felt the same stings that we have.
- Finally, Christ’s willingness to undergo such humiliation has earned him his glorious exaltation. Listen to the words of Paul in Philippians 2:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Because Christ was willing to go through such a state of exaltation, and yet remain without any sin, without any grumbling, without any coveting, without any bitterness, Christ has merited, he has earned for himself his state of exaltation. He has been raised from the tomb after three days, and he has ascended to the right hand of the father, and is even know serving as our great prophet, priest, and king in his exaltation.
And the promise for us, for any that would come to him by faith and believe in his good news, is that we can be forgiven for our sins, and we can taste in his exaltation. We too will be raised from the dead, we too can enjoy the presence of God for all eternity in the new heavens and new earth. I hope that you will hear the message of our great humble king, and by believing in him, join him in exaltation.
And all of this is why we can sing “Joy to the world” this time of year, because Christ’s humility, demonstrated in his state of humiliation, shows us the wonders of his love, the wonders of his love.