cross_sunset.4.lrAugustine once wrote, “Thou wouldst perhaps be ashamed to imitate a lowly man; then at least imitate the lowly God. The Son of God came in the character of man and was made low…He, since He was God, became man; do thou, O man, recognize that thou art man? Thy entire humility is to know thyself.”[1] In Augustine’s mind, humility lies at the heart of humanity.

The early chapters of Genesis tell us that although humanity was created perfect, after the Fall, man was marred by sin. In an act of delusion, Adam ignored the created order of authority. Instead of a sovereign God graciously guiding His creation, man now believes he can be sovereign, lustfully grasping at self-sufficiency. Pride lies at the heart of Adam’s sin. In his act of disobedience, humanity is deprived of its intended nature. Augustine was right when he said, “thy entire humility is to know thyself.” We are in need of our Savior Jesus Christ to restore our humanity. Where Adam assumes responsibility for robbing humanity of it’s meaning, the Second Adam is the demonstration of the fullness of man. The humble servanthood of Christ reflects the very essence of being human.

Jesus as a servant reflects His humanity and gives God’s people a clear picture of what it means to be human. The Gospels are filled with examples of Christ’s servanthood. At every corner you turn, Jesus is performing another miracle, washing His disciples’ feet, or providing a meal for those following Him. Jesus cares about the physical realm, so long as it works towards the spiritual issues, too. Jesus’ willingness to serve sinners does not put His two natures at odds; instead, His willingness to serve sinners lies at the very core of His personhood.

When we hyper-theologize the cross of Christ, we reduce it to a mere point of contention instead of the picture of the Son of God incarnate being the propitiation for the sins of those who the Father had given unto Him (John 10:15; 1 John 4:10). While a foundational understanding of biblical theology must frame our interpretation of Scripture, I’m afraid that sometimes “armchair theologians” neglect the servanthood of Christ. We tend to care all too much about what Christ did in His dying rather than what He did in His living. At the cross we see this true humanity on full display.

John Stott saw the onset of this issue years ago in his work The Contemporary Christian. Stott spends a large section of his chapter titled, “Guidance, Vocation, and Ministry,” talking about how the, “God many of us worship is altogether too religious.”[2] Instead of simply discussing the theological meaning of Christ, in Stott’s opinion, we should evaluate what Christ did with His time on Earth and see what that means for us as Christians today. Stott comments:

Since he is ‘the servant’ par excellence, who gave himself without reserve to the service of God and human beings, it would be impossible to be his disciple without seeking to follow his example of service. He preached the kingdom, healed the sick, fed the hungry, befriended the friendless, championed the oppressed, comforted the bereaved, sought the lost and washed his apostles’ feet. No task was too demanding, and no ministry too mean, for him to undertake. He lived his life and died his death in utterly self-forgetful service. Shall we not imitate him? The world measures greatness by success; Jesus measures it by service.[3]

When one person serves another, a social distinction naturally arises. The servant is watched, with either demeaning eyes or a grateful gaze. Jesus came to flip our fallen social distinctions on their heads, to bend our unnatural tendencies back to their original nature, and live a life of service according to His Father’s will. This is the true meaning of the gospel—that Christ has come and now serves.

This is what is so gripping when theologians begin talking about “condescension” Jesus didn’t come to distinguish Himself from us but instead came to define the fullness of man for us. Rather than coming to earth as a foreign being, claiming His rightful throne, He instead came in the form of man, flesh and blood like the rest of us, so that His glory might be shown in His lowliness. Let us gaze at Christ, both fully-God and fully-man, the Word incarnate, condescended for us!

  1. Scott Oliphint reminds us that, “orthodox theology has always held that, in Christ, there was not a union of two persons, but rather a union of the person of the Son of God with human nature.”[4] This means that Christ, who is completely and independently the Son of God without taking on human nature, humbled Himself so that He might become a Servant for His people (Phil. 2:6-8). He is the fullness of God (Col. 1:19-20) in human form. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:20 that Christ’s blood is the means of reconciliation both in heaven and on earth. Oh, may we pause and reflect on the greatness of God displayed in the work of the Son—the Divine Servant, the Slaughtered Innocent, the Victor of Death! Let us not lay aside the work of Christ on the ground for the sake of the work of Christ on the cross, for if we make this mistake, either His living fails to meet the precepts of the Law or His dying no longer makes atonement for the sin of His sheep. As it is written in Proverbs 11:1, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Our view of both the ministry of Christ and the misery of Christ must be balanced, for these are the scales on which our salvation is fixed.

Today’s 140-character-driven age leaves us in fifth gear, zooming us past missed opportunities to gaze at Jesus. Pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile talks about this in the introduction to his book Captivated. Anyabwile notices how, as kids, we are trained not to stare. We are turned into, “expert glancers, visual skimmers, ocular snapshot takers.”[5] He argues that this affects our walks with Christ since this is an innate reaction to the everyday. We occasionally manage a quiet glance towards Jesus as He works in our lives, whether in the beautiful plan of salvation or at His present intercession for His people at the right hand of the Father. Rather than enjoying His ministry towards us, we would sooner accuse Him of being the reason for our pain, hurt, or suffering.

The theology of the cross is a beautiful thing. Christ ransomed His sheep. He secured the eternities of believers. The cross reminds us that Jesus, the Rightful King came as the Suffering Servant for the sake of the elect. But don’t neglect to study the servanthood of the Savior of the world. Strive to, in the words of Warfield, imitate the incarnation. The Man who lived according to humankind’s intended design came not as a foreigner, but as a Servant to sinners, and if we lose sight of that, we are in danger of losing the gospel. Merely sitting at our desks and theologizing about the atonement is of little service to the Church. Proper theology fuels proper worship, including taking up our crosses and serving sinners as Christ has commanded us to do.

The humility of Jesus gives us gives us a portrait of His humanity. In His sinless life, we see His compassion; in His dying on the Cross, we see His sacrifice. Not only is Jesus a friend of sinners, He is the Atoner of many in Adam. Though we may study the theology of His life and death, we must not forget to pay attention to how He used them to serve sinners.

[1] B.B. Warfield, “Imitating the Incarnation,” in The Savior of the World (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 250.

[2] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 139.

[3] Ibid., 140-41.

[4] K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 202.

[5] Thabiti Anyabwile, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 1.