Friday, January 2, 2009

The Humble God

The angel said to [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

A “humble God” sounds like an oxymoron, especially when the Holy Scriptures describe God as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. How can God be humble when He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere? Yet, Jesus shows us that God is humble. God does not use His power for His own benefit. Instead He uses His power in a loving way to benefit us – if we will have it.

Many people mistake the humility of God for weakness. This is understandable, but it is a mistake. It is a mistake to think that the true God is weak because one day (soon) each of us will have to stand before God and answer for the sin we have committed against Him. If we imagine that we are stronger than God or greater than Him in any way then we are more likely to reject His solution for our sin.

It is understandable to mistake the humility of God for weakness because when sinful people create false gods, they exaggerate their “powers” so as to make them seem more impressive and frightening. The more powerful a god you seem to have on your side, then the more you can intimidate others to treat you favorably (or otherwise succumb to your wishes). False gods, however, have to be hyped up with hyperbole. They don’t have anything else speaking in their favor, especially the truth.

Jesus had nothing to prove to anyone, and He didn’t try – though many tried to tempt Him to prove Himself. Jesus was (and is) the same almighty God who created the earth, the universe, and everything that exists (except Himself, of course). Jesus didn’t have to prove Himself because Jesus is God. This would remain true even if no one had ever believed Him. So Jesus lived a humble life from beginning to end, simply living His own life so that through His life and death He would win salvation for us.

The humble life of Jesus began with His conception which was, at first, known only to His mother, Mary. By the time Jesus was born only a handful of people knew that God was soon to be born as a baby boy, including Mary and Joseph, and Mary’s elderly cousins, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Thus, when the holy family traveled to Bethlehem for the Imperial Census, no one made any room for the baby Son of God, and He spent His first night after His birth sleeping in a manger, where the livestock would ordinarily have been feeding. No other god on earth would be caught dead lying in a manger, but there was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to impress us, or to threaten us, or to “put the fear of God” into us. Though He could rightly have done any of these things, Jesus instead came to save us from the punishment required for our sins. Jesus lived an ordinary, humble life just like any other human being, even though He is God in the flesh.

The humility of Jesus is also shown when He went to be baptized by John, the son of Zechariah. John had been preparing the people to receive Christ by preaching repentance and baptizing for forgiveness of sins. He had truthfully told the people that he was unworthy to untie the shoelaces of the Christ who was soon to be revealed to them. Though God had sent him to preach and baptize in this manner, even John was surprised when Jesus came to be baptized, too.

The baptism of John was for sinners. Jesus was holy and innocent and pure, and had no sin. It could only make Jesus “dirty” to be baptized in the same baptism as the worst sinners. But Jesus didn’t come to earth just to remain “clean” and pure as if He were only here as an example for us to show us that it could be done. That would surely have condemned us because we are unable to undo what has already been done.

I have heard a saying, “For something to become clean, something else must become dirty.” You can’t make something clean with a dirty cloth or dirty water, for example, and our sin makes us filthy dirty inside and out. Jesus came to earth to “fulfill all righteousness” for our benefit, but He also came to “get dirty” with the guilt of our sin so that He could cleanse us from that same sin. So Jesus again humbled himself and insisted that He be baptized like a sinner. Jesus didn’t gain anything for Himself by doing this, but He gained amazing things for us, including full forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and the hope of everlasting life in paradise. To do this for us it cost Jesus a tremendous amount of shame and suffering and death, but that is what love does – love causes one to care more about others than about one’s self.

This leads us to the final humiliation of Jesus. Once Jesus had taken the guilt of mankind’s sins upon Himself and had completed the work of proclaiming the Gospel and preparing the Apostles to continue His work after He ascended into heaven, then He had to destroy our sins and the death curse that came along with them. Jesus did this by letting sinners do to Him what they wanted. What all sinners want to do God is to kill Him, so they killed Jesus.

Now, understand that it does no good to assign blame either to the Jews or to the Gentile Romans for the death of Jesus. They are both guilty. Jesus knew this, too, but He didn’t assign blame to them, but instead asked God the Father to forgive both Jews and Gentiles, which is to say, all people. We all are guilty of the death of Jesus, but that is only fitting because Jesus died for us all so that everyone who trusts in Jesus to save them from sin and death has been forgiven and will live with Jesus forever.

We ought to be glad that God is humble. If God were not humble and merciful, but only a righteous, all-powerful God, then He would have to use His power to punish all sinners for their sins. No other god would humble himself like Jesus did, but then no false god has any answer for sin except to pile more requirements upon us to try harder to accomplish the impossible task of saving ourselves. Jesus was not ashamed to humble himself. Jesus had nothing to prove, but He had much to accomplish. Jesus dirtied His body and soul with our sin so that He could wash us clean and rescue us from death. This He accomplished, and for this we (humbly) worship and praise Christ Jesus our savior.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

For more on this topic see: The Sovereignty of God

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