Theologians discuss the humiliation of Christ, but what does that actually mean? Trust me, I have been humiliated publicly on numerous occasions, but these events have always stemmed from my own mistakes or the gross meanness of others. Surely, the Son of God would not suffer the embarrassment of committing a social faux pas or stand for cruel public mocking just for being himself.
Then again, the same bold Jesus who defended the proper use of the Jerusalem Temple (Mt 21:12–17) and condemned the hypocrisy of oppressive Jewish rulers (Mt 23:13–39) truly did endure the shame of those in power (Mt 27:27–31, 38–44). In a culture formerly shaped by Christianity, we have lost sight of the degrading and tormenting nature of his crucifixion (Mt 27:45–50). All these humiliations, though, were perpetrated against Jesus who had made no silly mistakes and who had no guilt of evil to be punished.
The turmoil of Jesus’s ministry and its culmination in the crucifixion are the height of his humiliation, but that theme extended even prior to the disfavor of his own Jewish people. These events fall in a thematic middle phase of God the Son’s “incarnation.” We celebrate the initial phase of the incarnation in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, rejoicing over the Son taking on human flesh. At Christmastime, we marvel at the mystery that the Son added a human nature to his person that he might serve us.
In this way we confess that Jesus Christ was humiliated even in birth, for the miracle of Christmas describes the condescension of the Son of God into humanity. The Son, who as divine was well within his rights to enjoy the glory and power, instead became like us (Phil 2:6–7). Seeing our suffering in darkness and confusion, the Son entered the fray and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). The incarnation represents the pinnacle of reversals when God who graciously gave the law for humanity’s good and instruction subjected himself to the law, being born a human so that he might redeem us (Gal 4:4–5).
Along with the horrific nature of crucifixion, Christians are also prone to lose sight of the time between Christmas and Easter, including the overarching theme of Christ’s humiliation. Some Christian traditions observe the season of Epiphany which runs between Christmas and Lent. While the Feast Day of Epiphany (January 6) celebrates the recognition of Jesus as Messiah-King by the wise men, giving rise to traditions like Kings’ Cake (Mt 2:1–12), the rest of the season provides ample opportunity for Christians to reflect on Christ’s humiliation.
Although the Gospels do not record many details from Jesus’s childhood, we all experienced adolescence and can imagine the strange coming of age the Lord of Heaven must have shared in the flesh. This Easter season, look for ways to rejoice in Christ’s humiliation as you walk through the struggles of human life. Jesus hurt in the same way that we grieve over conditions of violence and poverty. Jesus was tempted by the regular complaints of personal and interpersonal struggle that we encounter at home and work every day. Jesus got hungry, thirsty, and suffered through the same daily grind [without the historical benefits of air conditioning and internet].
What a condescension for the very Son of God! And yet, these experiences were necessary for our redemption as human beings (Hb 4:15). Praise God that he would suffer the humiliation of humanity, from the normalcy of our existence to the height of hurt in crucifixion, all for us.
Tommy Doughty is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at NOBTS. As Associate Dean of Leavell College, he teaches Christian Doctrine, Church History, and other biblical studies, theology, and apologetics classes. His research interests include the work of Christ, salvific inclusivism, and the relation of Christianity and the sciences. For over ten years, Tommy has led music and student ministries in local churches, equipping high school and college students to live out a biblical worldview in their context. Currently, Tommy serves in the music, youth, and deacon ministries at First Baptist New Orleans.