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I am a son of the Civil Rights Movement. My mother was a longtime active leader in the local branch of the NAACP when I was a child. At the core of the Civil Rights Movement, both nationally and locally, was the significance of human dignity. Nowhere was this better illustrated than during the demonstrations in Memphis, Tenn., in early 1968.
One of the iconic images from those marches was a large white poster with four simple words in bold, block letters: I AM A MAN. This sign was a statement asserting that black men in general and the Memphis sanitation workers in particular, were men, too, and were due the dignity all men deserved.
Showing proper and appropriate respect and dignity to a person or position is essential to honor. All men, created in the image of God, deserve to be treated with honor and respect. And no one more so than Jesus. Jesus was not only a man, He was divine, and yet He was not treated with the dignity of deity while on earth. Instead, He willingly subjected himself to dishonor.
The Bible reminds us in Philippians 2:5–11:
[Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.
Here we have the church’s earliest confession and song of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ—the dishonoring and honoring of our Savior. The humiliation of Christ involved His not being treated as His divine dignity deserved, less than the honor rightly due His place. As the text reminds us, Christ was and is God. The incarnation was Him as God subjecting Himself to dishonor from men.
He subjected Himself to the sinful whims of human beings. Rather than worship Him, we spat on Him (Matt. 26:67). Rather than love Him, we injured Him (27:30). Rather than adore and honor Him, we mocked, beat, and killed Him (Mark 14:65). He willingly assumed the position of dishonor, even to the point of enduring the dishonorable death of hanging naked on a Roman cross for all to see. No one worthy of great honor had ever been treated so dishonorably. And yet, this is dishonor He willingly received.
The humiliation of Christ is something He did willingly. The Bible is clear: He “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7); He “humbled himself” (v. 8); He chose to be “born in the likeness of men” (v. 7)—even being clothed as a “servant” and thus being treated as one. Yet, this humiliation was not in vain. It had a glorious goal and redemptive purpose. His humiliation led to His exaltation.
The Bible reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). No one was ever more humbled than Jesus. Consequently, no one has ever been more exalted. No one endured more dishonor from men and consequently, no one has received more honor from God. Because Christ received such dishonor for our sakes, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).
With the exaltation of Christ, honor is no longer an impersonal virtue. It is not a theoretical notion from antiquity. Honor has a name. It is the name above every name. It is the name at which everyone must bow. It is Jesus Christ the Lord.
It is common and even popular in evangelistic presentations to ask people to make Jesus the Lord of their lives. While we understand the sentiment, biblically speaking we don’t make Jesus the Lord. He is Lord. God made Him Lord (Acts 2:36). Through the dishonor of the humiliation, God has highly exalted Him. God has exalted Him to the place of ultimate honor (Acts 5:31) and given Him the name to which all honor is and is to come.
His humiliation on the cross was for all to see. His exaltation will be so also. On the cross He was mocked as King of the Jews. In His return, He will be exalted as King of kings. He was dishonored before all creation. Now all creation does and will bow and honor Him.
In heaven, we will be given a new song (Rev. 14:3). It will be a song that ascribes to the Lord Jesus Christ the glory and honor due to His name (Ps. 96:8). Until then, let us continue to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that do the same.