The humblest man…
Who was the humblest person to ever live? If you’ve read Numbers 12:3, then you may recall that Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (And yes, I smile when I read that, because you know who wrote it? Moses!)
Moses was very humble, astoundingly so. Yet the depth of his humility was measured by comparison to other people—everyone else on earth, in fact. I am humbled by Moses’ humility. I also find myself humbled by people who are kinder, wiser, more patient, more loving, and less complaining than myself.
The humility of Moses was a precursor and foreshadowing of an even greater humility to come, a humility that was beyond measure and beyond compare. I am talking about the humility of Christ: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
The go-to text for describing Jesus’ humility is found in Philippians 2:6-8.
Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
In very nature God…
Right up front—at the very top—Jesus is beyond compare. Moses was close to God, in that he enjoyed a unique relationship with God, speaking to him face to face (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10). But Moses was not “in very nature God”! So when we talk about Jesus, we are talking about God. And when we talk about the humility of Jesus, we are talking about the humility of God. The humility… of God!
Before continuing with Paul’s descriptive summary, let’s journey back to the beginning, to the beginning of time. It starts at Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now let’s go back another step or two, or perhaps outside the realm of time, to God’s eternal existence. In this place (for lack of a better word), God was already humble in his heart. He had perfect humility within himself, beyond measure and beyond compare. This means Jesus—the eternally existent Son—did not become humble when he let go of his equality-with-God status and “made himself nothing.” Rather, he enacted his divine descent because of who he is and how completely humble he is. To connect back to Paul’s description, God had the cross already in mind before he ever created the cosmos.
Martin Luther’s symbolic seal (Luther’s rose) beautifully captures this theological truth. The outer circumference is a gold ring, representing eternity. And at the very center of the seal is a cross—the cross—as the central point of eternity! And around the cross? God’s heart. What a wonderful picture of the humility of Christ!
Now, all this was before time, before creation, before the beginning, before Genesis 1:1. A person unfamiliar with God and his Word may at this point ask, “Why? Why would God think about something as awful as a cross before he had even made anything?” To that question I would add two more: “What did God know?” And more to the heart of it all, “What did God want when he created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them?”
God, who is humble in heart, wanted fellowship with the crowning achievement of his creation: the creatures he created unlike any others, so close to his heart that they were fashioned and formed in his very image, in the image of God. In other words, God created the universe for us! And he created us—for himself.
So, what did he know? God knew that a serpent—the serpent—would slither into the garden he had made for Adam and Eve. He knew they would listen to the serpent’s lies about him. He knew they would willingly choose the one forbidden fruit over the countless perfect and delicious fruits he had provided for them. He knew the apples of his eyes would break fellowship with him and destroy their own lives. He knew they would destroy their lives and the lives of all humanity forever, unless he had a plan to save them.
That makes the humility of God all the more stunning, doesn’t it? He knew all that. He knew how sinful we would be. That we would rebel against him, willingly, willfully, stubbornly. Pridefully. And still he created us! What kind of God would do that? Only a God who is humble beyond measure. And only a God who had a plan to achieve his desire in creation, despite mankind’s sin.
To appreciate God’s humility from another perspective, imagine with me for one terrifying moment a god who is not humble.
A prideful god, knowing his special creatures would rebel, would have filled their original garden not with luscious trees for them to eat from but with torturous crosses for them to suffer on—interminably—for dismissing his word, despising his gifts, and disrespecting him.
Or, a little-less-knowing god might have simply crushed Adam and Eve as soon as they had taken that fateful bite of forbidden fruit. Back to the ribcage and to the dirt with them! Be gone, ungrateful creatures!
But a God who is humble in heart, our God? He spoke to Adam and Eve. He sewed leather garments for them to cover their own nakedness and shame. He promised not to crush them, but to crush two others in their stead: the serpent who had deceived them, and the Christ—God’s very own Son—who would save them (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53:5).
Before God ever created the cosmos, the cross was already part of his plan. And his Son—the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)—was ready and waiting in the wings of eternity.
And so, when the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4), God’s perfect humility was manifested to the world in the form of his Son—
Who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Jesus Christ did that… for you.
Rev. Randy Mortenson is Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Brethren Church in Ottawa, Illinois.