He Was Humiliated That You Would be Glorified!
looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2NKJV
Question 49 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How did Christ humble himself in his death?” It gives the answer, “Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors, having also conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God's wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.” Last week we looked at some of the ways Christ humbled Himself in order to carry out His mission. This week we consider the ultimate humiliation He willingly endured for our sakes: the humiliation of death.
Death has been called “the final humiliation,” by at least one Reformed theologian. I do not remember his name, but I remember this statement, for it struck me as profoundly capturing the experience of death that all men must endure. If you think of it, human beings, much more than animals, enter this life in a humiliating state. We are completely dependent on others for the most basic needs of life. Whereas a deer can gracefully run and jump a few hours after its birth, a human being requires about six months before he can even hold up his own head! Then, as we grow into adulthood, we are able to throw off the humiliations of dependency and support our own existence—for a time. However, as we age, that old humiliation creeps back into the picture and we more and more need others to help us meet the basic needs of life. This latter humiliation is particularly painful on two accounts. First, as we grow weaker in old age, we are deeply aware of what we have lost and how that makes us appear to ourselves and others. Second, and much more significantly, we know that this lack of ability is not due to our having just begun to grow in life and strength, as is the case with the inability of infants, but it is due to our beginning to head down that inevitable incline of weakness increasing unto death.
Every human being is dying of old age. In fact, aging itself is simply the process and motions of death in our members. And death is humiliating to us, for death is God’s curse upon sin. To be accursed of God is the only true humiliation there can be for one made in God’s image. Thus, in dying, we are exposed as sinners. In our pride, we pretend that we are good, that we are alive and vibrant, and that the motions of life are surging through us. You see this façade most clearly in those aging Hollywood stars who are constantly trying to appear young and alive. But it is not true. It is a lie. Life is not at work in us, death is (Rom. 7:5). Man is born dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and this death eventually takes all away. Thus, as we age, as we grow frail and weak, and ultimately as we die, we are seen to be the spiritually dead sinners that we really are. And this is the final humiliation that believers must endure. Though we are not spiritually dead, though we have been given eternal life, yet we too must yield to this humiliating power of death (which power includes everything that leads to death) and appear to be cursed of God. We too (for a time), must appear to be, as Paul called it, “unclothed,” (2 Cor. 5:4). And to be unclothed or naked is, Biblically speaking, to be ashamed and thus humiliated.
Hence, when our Catechism speaks of Christ’s humiliation in death, it mentions all of those things which were the “motions” of death to Him: His entire passion. For in willingly surrendering Himself to betrayal, abandonment, scorn, rejection, condemnation, physical torture, spiritual oppression, and most significantly propitiating God’s wrath as a sacrifice for sin, our Lord Jesus was humbling Himself, not in life, but in death. He was willingly allowing those things which were to result in His death, to crush His humanity. Thus, they were the “motions” of death to Him, and as such they were particularly humiliating to the only man over whom death had no authority! Yet these humiliations He endured for us. He was condemned by the church, the state, and ultimately by God on our behalf (Gal. 3:13). The good news for you, believer, is that since Jesus Christ was accursed and thus humiliated in your place, every humiliation you are called to endure is not real but apparent. It is not due to God’s curse, but to His love for you. It is not your defeat but your victory. It is not your humiliation but your glory, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” (2 Cor. 4:17). It is the sinful nature in us that is humiliated and dies, but we live forever in Him, moving “from glory to glory,” (2 Cor. 3:18)!