In humbling Himself, the Lord retained the form of God (that unchangeable, essential Being) but took the form (the unalterable characteristics) of a Servant and the fashion (the outward appearance) of a Man. Jesus Christ was not a Man of God but was the God-Man and His humbling did not entail the diminution of His divine attributes. At the same time what He became was not play-acting, it was reality. He was really and truly Man. Having become Man, the Lord Jesus further humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (see Philippians 2:5-11).
Among the great characteristics of the Lord’s life were humility, obedience and self-renunciation. If they were supreme characteristics of His life, they must be the hall-marks of the Christian, for the Christian must ever be as his Lord. Christian greatness depends on renouncing self and is destroyed by the exaltation of self. The Lord’s humility was demonstrated in the fact that He did not seek His own glory. “I seek not Mine own glory” (John 8:50); “I seek not Mine own will” (John 5:30). The prophet Isaiah said of Him, “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2). How often after a miraculous healing He asked that the news should not be broadcast. Many professed followers of Jesus Christ court fame and glory. The Lord Jesus shunned it. He kept no advertising bureau! His humility was further shown by:
His association with the despised and outcast (see Matthew 9:10; Luke 15:1,2); patient submission to injury and injustice (Isaiah 50:5,6; Hebrews 12:3);
His silence in the face of such injury and injustice (Isaiah 53.7; Matthew 26:62,63); His silence in the face of false accusation (1 Peter 2:23; Luke 23:8-10);
His acceptance of the place of a servant (Matthew 20:28; John 13:1-11; Luke 22:27; Philippians 2:6-8).
The Lord’s humility was most clearly seen in His giving up the outward manifestations of His deity and taking His place in humanity and then accepting the lowest place in humanity. This was humility indeed. Think of His attitude:
1. towards worldly position: “Is not this the carpenter’s Son?” (Matthew 13:55)
2. towards earthly riches: “For your sakes He became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
3. towards service: “I am in the midst of you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:27)
4. towards suffering: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12.50)
This condescension to death is the most remarkable aspect of His humility. It is impossible to improve on Paul’s words, “And being found in fashion as a Man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross.” Paul concludes this marvellous passage, “Wherefore also God highly exalted Him”.
In sharp contrast with the policy of God summarized as “God’s way up is down,” Satan’s policy is “The way up is up.” Look closely at Isaiah 14:12-15. Five times Satan says, “I will …” But God says, “Thou shalt be brought down to hell …” In this passage and Philippians 2 we have the whole philosophy of the rebellion of Satan, “I will ascend” contrasted with the revelation of the Son, “I will go to the cross”. Here then are the rival policies of Christ and antichrist. Between these lies the choice that must be made by every one of us.
In final encouragement to take the Christlike way of humility let us briefly consider the incident in John 13 and Peter’s sequel in chapter 5 of his first epistle. Verse 3 of John 13 gives an important backcloth to the scene: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came forth from God, and goeth unto God …”
The quality of the Lord’s humility is thus heightened by the fact that He washed the disciples’ feet while vividly conscious of His divine origin and nature. He knew that He came from the holiness and adoring service of God’s presence. None of His disciples would confess himself subservient to another, but in full remembrance of who He was, the Lord rose up and performed the lowliest of tasks. The washing of the disciples’ feet was not the ordinary washing of the feet of the guests. He took a towel and girded Himself with it. The towel wrapped round the loins was a sign in the East of slavery. The disciples saw their Lord take the badge of slavery and start to wash their feet. Peter said, “Lord, dost THOU wash MY feet?” I wonder if the emphasis lay on the two words in capitals? The Lord of glory washing Peter’s feet! Later (1 Peter 5:4,5) Peter wrote, “Gird yourselves with humility”.
Peter, where did that idea originate? The word gird comes from a word meaning knotted. Being clothed or girded is being dressed in a knotted garment. The Greek noun for that garment is used in two applications. It was the garment of a slave, but it was also the garment of princes. Whether the garment was a slave’s or a prince’s depended on the material of which it was made. Perhaps Peter saw the knotted garment of slavery on Jesus and, before he had finished, he realized that it was the knotted garment of royalty. He was writing to both young and old, and gathering them together in one all-embracing exhortation his words seem to imply, “All of you, put on humility as a slave’s garment and so learn to wear the garment of true royalty.”
Surely, Peter learned that lesson in the Upper Room when Jesus rose up, girded Himself and washed the disciples’ feet, both as Servant and Sovereign.