Shorter Catechism Q. 27
Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.
John 13:1–17; Philippians 2:3–11
Christ’s humiliation encompasses all that Jesus experienced from the moment he was born until he died. In birth as well as in his death he was with the poor. The maker of the universe was not born in a palace, but was laid in a manger. When he died he had no possession to call his own except the clothes on his back, and even that was taken from him. He had no tomb so another’s was borrowed.
And in between his birth and death he was humble. In many ways John 13 and Philippians 2 referred to above explain one another. In John 13 we read of Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet. It was an unthinkable thing he did. Jesus was their earthly master, and the disciples were slowly catching on to the fact that Jesus was also their heavenly Lord. And yet the Lord and maker of the universe stooped down, wrapped the towel around his waist, poured water into the basin, and washed, like a household slave, the disciples’ dirty feet.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and in doing so set an example of humility and service (John 13:14–15). And yet what he did is more than an example for us. For Jesus was telling his disciples that unless he was completely emptied, unless he was completely spent for his disciples, they can have no share in him. That is, Jesus’ life had to be poured out on the cross as the water was poured on the disciples’ feet. For only through Jesus’ death on the cross, where he was completely emptied and spent for his disciples, will the disciples have a share in Jesus.
In Philippians 2 Paul gives us a theological commentary of Jesus’ humility. Paul once again tells us that Jesus’ humility is a pattern for us to follow (Phil 2:5). And yet it is much more. Jesus’ humiliation was the means by which he emptied himself. He humbled himself by becoming man and by submitting to death on the cross. Our redemption was accomplished only through his humiliation.
Indeed, we cheapen Jesus’ humility if we can only see in it what we are to be like. We certainly should be humble, and we are told so both in John 13 and Philippians 2. Let us indeed humble ourselves before God and man, and serve both with humility and gladness. Let humility be our constant companion. Because Jesus washed his disciples’ feet like a household slave, pride is unbecoming for those who follow Jesus.
But let us never forget that Jesus has humbled himself for our salvation. He endured from the moment he was born until the moment he died not ease and luxury, but difficulties and poverty for our sake. And because he did, he is our savior from sin and death. And because he is our savior from sin and death, he is our refuge in our difficulties and poverty as well. Jesus saves to the uttermost. Since he has saved us from sin and death, he will save us from all that will destroy us. What greater confidence can we have for life? None, indeed!