There is no other way of achieving humility than by looking unto Jesus. Paul tells us, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). The Son of God humbled Himself. That was something extraordinary. But there is more. He was made in human likeness. God the Son in a stable, His diapers being changed, and His being washed and fed by a young mother, Mary. But there is more. He took the very nature of a servant. God washing feet. But there is more. As Donald Macleod states in A Faith to Live By:
What did the angels think of it all? One day they blinked in astonishment as they saw their great Creator in a manger in Bethlehem. They must have found the spectacle incomprehensible. Then as the days and years moved on they saw a drama unfold which must have overloaded every circuit in their computers. One day word came that their Lord was in Gethsemane, and one of them had been sent to strengthen him. Hours later there came even more astonishing news: he was bleeding on the cross of Calvary. That, surely, was the bottom: the very worst! But no! The next thing was, the Father had forsaken him! The God whose whole impulse it was to wash away the tears from the eyes of his people not washing away the tears of his own Son! That’s how it was from beginning to end of the earthly life: down! The tremendous step from throne to stable, and then the incredible journey from the stable to the cross and beyond it the journey on the cross itself from the immolation to the dereliction. The angels must have been saying, “Will this never end? How low is he going to go? How low does he have to go?”
Notice three things about the structure of Paul’s comments on humility.
First, “He humbled himself.” Jesus quite deliberately took each step by Himself. In other words, there was not just a single plinth (platform) and then one step down from the throne to our redemption. No. There was a ladder that went down and down, and on each step were carved such words as these: conception, birth, stable, infantile weakness, refugee in Egypt, carpenter’s shop, baptism, wilderness temptations, Satan, constant travel, endless teaching, exhausting healings, betrayal, Gethsemane, flogging, crucifixion, dereliction, abandonment, death, burial. Christ goes down and down. On the cross, He plumbed the depths of the lake of fire when He entered into the cosmic incinerator of sin called Golgotha.
Second, Paul says that Jesus “became obedient to death.” The key word here is “obedient.” Christ’s sufferings were not fate. It was not that some great whirling wheel came crashing into the life of Jesus, and He was helpless before it. It was no calamity. It was not the accident of suffering. It was obedience to God’s appointing Him to become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. So, it was obedience to all the implications of that—arrest, trial, scourging, mockery, unbearable pain.
God made Him to be sin who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21), and we are saying that at every stage the Son was obedient. The first Adam couldn’t even obey the simple command not to take a fruit from one tree in Paradise. The last Adam displayed a range of costly obediences year after year in the wilderness of this world. By the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners, and so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous. From Bethlehem to Golgotha, the God-man practiced obedience. It was vicarious obedience, and that obedience of Christ is the believing sinner’s righteousness. We are clothed with all the merit, all the eloquence, and all the discernment of the unfaltering obedience of the Son of God from the cradle to the cross. There was no moment in that whole experience when He was not the Redeemer. There was no day in that full life when He was not acting in a substitutionary capacity. Each moment had the glory of grace and truth, the glory of the staggering obedience of the incarnate God. That is what is imputed to us so that we are clothed with His merit and righteousness.
Finally, we are told that Jesus “became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” There is death, and then there is death. There is what Revelation calls the second death, but there is a death for the Christian that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. There is the anticipation of a death that means being absent from the body and present with the Lord. That death is without sting, a death without anathema and condemnation. But that is not the death referred to in Philippians 2. The death in Philippians 2 is the cursed death, the second death. He who knew no sin died as one to whom guilt and shame have been given. He died paying the wages of sin. He died as one made sin and not spared. He died with God’s absolute integrity confronting Him, and there was no mitigation. God doesn’t say, “How obedient He’s been, so I must spare Him.” God did not spare Him. All that our sin deserves went over His soul in this death. All consciousness of the divine favor was withdrawn from Him.
This is the example of Christ. So we are of the same mind, having the same love. We refuse to look to our own interests, but we are very concerned for the interests of others. Costly love. Hurting love. Golgotha love. Servant love. The world is to see that love in the Christian community, and that will make its own impact on them.