By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
Some distinguish between Christ's condescension in assuming our nature, and his humiliation in suffering. But the distinction is useless. God "humbles himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth." Psalm 113:6. Surely then he humbled himself when he became incarnate. This has already been considered.
Respecting the humiliation of the Savior, the language of Scripture is strong: "He made himself of no reputation [literally, he emptied himself] and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion [form or figure] as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." This is an outline of our Lord's humiliation, which has long been and will forever be the wonder and the song of angels and redeemed men. The whole of our Lord's history on earth was one series of acts of self-emptying and humiliation.
Let us begin with the humble circumstances in which he came into the world. The husband of his mother was an artisan, commonly supposed to be a carpenter. Matt. 13:55. Both he and the mother of our Lord were descended from David. Luke 2:4. But this family was fallen so low that when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem their descent from David secured them no attentions or civilities, but they were lodged in a cattle stable. There the mother of our Lord brought forth her child, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Luke 2:7. And when she brought him to present him to the Lord, her offering was that of the poorest, "a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons." The law of Moses admitted that offering for those who were "not able to bring a lamb." Lev. 12:8. Thus the most highly favored among women was found in the depths of poverty and in great neglect. Her first-born shared her lot. I have heard of but one child born in a stable. That was the holy child Jesus.
At his birth our Lord had all the weakness of infancy. He was helpless and dependent like other children. The inspired history tells us that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." Luke 2:52. He had the trials of childhood.
No sooner was his birth known than Herod the Great, a cruel and bloody man, became intent on his death. He killed all the young children in one district of the land in the hope that he would thereby surely destroy Jesus. By timely warning from God, the infant Savior was rescued from the threatened evil; but only by flight into Egypt—Egypt, the "Rahab" and "Leviathan" of Scripture. The cruel, idolatrous, and degraded people of that land had a hereditary and inveterate hatred against the Jews; but now their country was a safer asylum to this blessed family than any city or village of Judea.
On their return from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth. By some means this place had been rendered odious. Even the guileless Nathanael shared in the common aversion, and cried, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John 1:46. Here Jesus spent the most of his life until he was thirty years old. Nazareth is not once mentioned in the Old Testament, nor by Josephus. Prophecy said that Christ should be "despised and rejected of men." This was the same as saying he should be called "a Nazarene." Compare Isaiah 53:3 and Matt. 2:23. Nazareth was probably infamous for the fierceness and brutality of its people. Luke 4:16-30. It was not the seat of any famous school. As a place of residence it had the advantage of privacy; and its geographical position was truly beautiful. Here our Lord lived and wrought at the same craft as Joseph, for his own countrymen said, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" Mark 6:3. If there was any school at Nazareth, Jesus does not seem to have attended it; for the Jews said, "How did this man get such learning without having studied?" John 7:15.
Another part of Christ's humiliation consisted in his being tempted. Heb. 2:18; 4:15. True, the prince of this world found nothing in him. John 14:30. In his holy soul was no fuel to be kindled by the fiery darts; but it must have filled him with anguish to have so foul suggestions made to him. So far as we know, his first great conflict with the adversary was in the wilderness. It lasted forty days. Luke 4:2. Christ was about to enter on his public ministry, and retired to the wilderness under the best desires to commune with God. But Satan annoyed him continually. The temptation grew worse and worse to the close. The adversary then tempted him to use his miraculous power to prove his divinity to Satan, and to satisfy his own hunger, as he had eaten nothing for forty days. The wicked one also tempted him to an act of presumption by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Finally, he offered him immense possessions and great honors, the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, if he would commit one act of idolatry. It added not a little to the power of these besetments that they were urged on Christ in his solitude. Although each assault was an utter failure, yet the devil departed from him but for a season. Luke 4:13. The Savior was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.
As Jesus was born, so he lived and died—poor. He said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." Matt. 8:20. During his ministry he seems to have chiefly subsisted upon the charity of some poor, pious women. Well did he know what it was to suffer hunger and need. When a tax was demanded of him, though it was but half a crown for himself and Peter, he could not pay it without a miracle.
Another element of Christ's humiliation was his liability to affliction. Above all that ever lived he was the "man of sorrows." He was subject to disappointment, grief, vexation, a sense of wrong, a sense of the ingratitude of men, and the pangs arising from a disregard of all the principles of friendship. His holy soul was filled with anguish by his cruel rejection. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." John 1:10, 11. None of the princes of this world knew him. 1 Cor. 2:8. "We hid as it were our faces from him; . . . we esteemed him not." Isaiah 53:3. Those countless annoyances, called slights, must have pierced him deeply. The people of the city where he had been brought up were so offended at his first sermon in their synagogue, that they attempted to destroy his life by casting him down from a high rock. Luke 4:16-30. And when he claimed existence prior to Abraham, the Jews took up stones to cast at him. John 8:59. For saving two men from the most frightful torments, followed by the loss of some swine, the whole city of the Gergesenes "sought that he would depart out of their coasts." They preferred their swine, madmen, and devils—to the Prince of Peace. Matt. 8:34. Afterwards, on his trial, the Jews cried, "Away with him; away with him." John 19:15. They preferred to have a murderer turned loose on their community, rather than that the Son of God should longer teach his heavenly doctrines. Their cry was, "Not this man, but Barabbas." During his whole ministry the leaders among his foes denied that God had sent him. John 10:24-26. Never was a mission so well attested. Never were attestations so malignantly set aside.
And never were hard names and opprobrious epithets so heaped upon anyone. His enemies said he was a deceiver, John 7:12; gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners, Matt. 11:19. They said he was in league with the prince of the devils, and that by Satanic power he wrought miracles. Surely above all others he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. Heb. 12:3. Nor were these things without their dreadful effects on his refined and tender nature. "His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men." Speaking in his name the prophet said, "Reproach has broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none." Psalm 69:20. The same prophet had elsewhere said in his name, "I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head." Psalm 22:6, 7.
The annals of our race furnish no parallel to his history in the lack of sympathy under amazing sufferings. No terms of derision, no taunts in the midst of his agonies were by his enemies deemed indecent. Matt. 27:40-43. In his greatest trial, when he most needed the offices of friendship, his "disciples forsook him and fled." Matt. 26:56. The very boldest of all his followers denied him thrice, and even with oaths and curses. Mark 14:71. Never by countenance did friend express such surprise, regret, and reproof—as when Christ looked on Peter after the rooster crew.
He was not only denied by one disciple; he was betrayed by another in a manner full of base hypocrisy, even with a kiss. The general motive for his betrayal was the depravity of Judas. The special motive was covetousness. Yet the son of perdition sold him for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver, the amount fixed by the law of Moses as the price of a slave, to be paid to his owner if his death had been brought about by the goring of a neighbor's ox. Ex. 21:32. In prophetically speaking of this sum, Zechariah ironically calls it a goodly price. He cast the amount in scorn to the potter in the house of the Lord. Zech.11:13.
Another element in our Lord's humiliation was the character of the testimony on his trial. The witnesses all gave perjured testimony. The Jews "sought false witness against Jesus to put him to death, but found none, yes, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none." Matt. 26:59, 60. That is, the law required two concurring witnesses, and they found not two who agreed. "At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." Matt. 26:60, 61. These witnesses lied, for they had not heard him say anything about destroying the temple, and what he did say was quite unlike what they alleged. "Destroy this temple," (that is, kill this body,) "and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:19. The thing charged was absurd and frivolous as well as false. No wonder Jesus held his peace and answered nothing. The Jews evidently felt that they had made good no serious charge; for they tried to get from him a confession that he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One. Our Lord felt it was a right time to speak, whereupon he made that "good confession," so precious in the church ever since. He said he was the Christ.
The course of the judge who sat on his trial, while it was a disgrace to himself, was a deep humiliation to Jesus. If history can be trusted, Pilate was a monster of perfidy, avarice, cruelty, and obstinacy. Previously he had fallen on some poor Galileans and butchered them while they were making their prescribed offerings, thus mingling their blood with their sacrifices. Luke 13:1. No decency of life, no solemnity of religion could restrain him. Over and over again did he confess that Jesus had violated no law, had committed no offence. His wife warned him to do nothing against that just person. He knew that the chief priests had delivered him up because of envy. He was afraid that he would lose his place if he did not give sentence against Jesus. Instead of abiding by his own clear convictions, he turned to the malignant enemies of the innocent sufferer before him and asked them what the sentence should be. Compare Matt. 27:18, 19, 24, and John 19:12-16. Before yielding to the violence of the mob around the judgment-seat, this mercenary and vacillating creature made a feeble effort to convince the Jews that the prisoner before him ought not to die, saying, "Why, what evil has he done?" Matt. 27:23. This failing, he thought to save his popularity and the life of Jesus by working on their sympathies. So he delivered Christ over to be scourged. This was a dreadful infliction. The back was made bare, the arms were drawn up, the scourge was applied first with the right hand and then with the left. At the shocking sight men often grew faint. All this had been predicted by the evangelical prophet: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." Isaiah 50:6.
But all this had no effect in appeasing the rage of the malignant throng. Nor did it strengthen any just purpose in the bosom of the judge. So he delivered his guiltless victim to be crucified. Matt. 27:26. It is often asked, What became of Pilate? His murder of the Galileans and like acts of violence would probably have caused his dismissal, had not Tiberius died. He however fell under the displeasure of the successor of that emperor, was degraded from office, became a wretched outcast, and ended his days by committing suicide.
As the form of trial granted to Jesus was a mockery of all justice and decency, so mockery was kept up to the last. They spit in his face and buffeted him. Others smote him with the palms of their hands, and taunted him, Who is he who smote you? They stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe, as though he were a royal personage. But all was in derision. And when they wove a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed and smote him on the head. And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. Matt. 26:67 27:28, 29.
It would be amazing indeed, if so long and sleepless sorrow, such scourging and smiting, had not much exhausted his strength. And so we find it. At first by their bidding he bore his own cross, John 19:17 but, as is supposed, growing faint under it, he could bear it no farther. They took a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Matthew says they compelled him to bear the cross. Luke says they laid the cross on him that he might bear it after Jesus. Compare Matt. 27:32 and Luke 23:26. Who this Simon was, friend or foe, or how he felt on the sad occasion, is not certain; but he was probably suspected of leaning to the cause of Christ. It is not certain whether he bore the whole cross or only part of it.
As the procession advanced, there followed him a great company of people, and of women which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus, knowing he should soon be through his troubles, and seeing the glory that should follow, turning to them, said, Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children. He then foretold the solemn doom of the holy city. Luke 23:27-31.
Reaching the dreadful spot, Jesus was again stripped, and nailed to the cross. Truly this was the hour of darkness. A few days before, the Son of God was in tears. The night before, he had been in bloody sweat. Now he is on the cross, receiving at the hands of men a punishment reserved for the worst criminals. Some think hanging on the cross produced dislocation. So they understand that phrase, "All my bones are out of joint," Psalm 22:14. Others think it is figurative language, descriptive of dreadful agony, as if all the bones were dislocated. Perhaps this is the more probable view. The mode of death by crucifixion was the extinction of life, not by strangulation, nor by loss of blood, but by nervous distress. The extremities, the seat of very tender sensation, were wounded and lacerated. The distortions of the frame were dreadful. The sufferer was confined to one position, itself great torture if long continued. One may read the history of crucifixion until his feelings are petrified. The details are indeed lacerating. No doubt a graphic description of them in a large assembly would make many swoon away. But the object of this chapter is not to harrow up sensibilities, but to show how Jesus humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wondrous cross! Wondrous tree! The human mind, ever prone to superstition, has sought, and claims to have found, more wood belonging to our Savior's cross than is found in one of our large edifices. But the efficacy of the cross is not in the wood, but in the blood shed by him who hung upon it. Pious minds must have experienced sensible relief when the first Christian emperor, considering the horrible nature of the torture, and wishing to put honor on the death of Christ, abolished punishment by crucifixion.
Every death by the cross was shameful. That of our Lord was peculiarly so. He was crucified between two thieves, and with every mark of ignominy.
Such was the agony of death by the cross that, as a matter of humanity, it seems to have been customary to administer some powerful narcotic to produce insensibility. "Wine mingled with myrrh" was offered to our Savior, but he "received it not." Mark 15:23. He drew his solace from another source. As he had despised their reproaches and cruelties, so he despised their offered stupefying cup. Christ would end his days with an unclouded intellect. He would not leave the world in voluntary stupor. Yet even the offer of wine mingled with myrrh was soon followed by renewed derision. Matt. 27:42, 43.
The death of the cross is often called accursed. It was so indeed. Paul says: "It is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." Gal. 3:13. He refers to Deuteronomy 21:22, 23: "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." These texts do not teach that eternal misery always followed this kind of death. We know this is not so. The penitent thief went from the cross to paradise.
A few remarks may aid us in understanding these verses.
1. Hanging in any way has always been esteemed odious, gibbeting the dead very much so, and crucifixion most of all.
2. The Jews contend that they never crucified the living, though they admit that, after the death of a vile criminal, they sometimes hung his lifeless body on a tree. Some contend that they crucified the living. Perhaps they did. See Josh. 8:29; 2 Sam. 21:9. Josephus tells (lib. 13, cap. 22) of the crucifixion of eight hundred men by Alexander, king of the Jews. However this may be, the Jews and all ancient nations regarded hanging on the cross as the most execrable death.
3. In the passage cited from Deuteronomy, God himself teaches that whoever is righteously and according to the divine law delivered over to hanging, does therein receive the curse of God.
4. So terrible was this death, that God said it should be all the punishment and disgrace man should inflict on any criminal. It was "the curse of God;" that is, the extreme penalty provided for evil-doers in the Jewish commonwealth. Accordingly, at sunset the body was to be taken down, that the land might not be defiled by scenes which could but harden men's hearts.
5. Though the sentence given by Pilate was wholly unjust, and though it was with wicked hands that Jesus was crucified and slain, Acts 2:23, yet, as he voluntarily and by God's approval stood in our place, he bore "the curse of the law," not for his own, but for our sins. No doubt the Mosaic law pointed to the death of Christ, for above all that ever lived, he was "made a curse," though not for himself, yet "for us." He was not only forsaken of men, but of God. The bitterest cry ever heard came from the cross: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
Not long after, our Savior cried with a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. That he was dead the executioners admitted, and neither friend nor foe doubted. The water that came from his side proved that he was dead and cold. But the Lord of heaven and earth had no sepulcher of his own. The love of one of his followers secured him burial. Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable Counselor and a rich man, who had hitherto shown much timidity, went in boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the mouth of the sepulcher. Mark 15:43, 46. Here the Lord lay surrounded by a strong guard of Roman soldiers.
This was the end of his humiliation; for that clause in the Apostles' Creed which says, "He descended into hell," means no more than that his body was under the power of death, and that his soul was in the invisible world. That our Lord's soul was not in torment after his death is certain, for he said to the penitent thief, "This day shall you be with me in paradise;" and paradise is a place of bliss.
1. Why should we be in love with this world? It reviled, maligned, and crucified the Lord of life and glory. It deserves not our confidence or our love.
2. Let us not make much ado about our sufferings. Our Master fared far worse. If personal innocence and unswerving benevolence could screen anyone-our Lord would never have met a rebuff.
3. Let us not be afraid of humiliation. In the end it will do us no harm. It is the highway to glory. If we would be very high, let us know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and be made conformable unto his death. Phil. 3:10. If we would reign with him—let us suffer with him.
4. It is as safe as it is necessary to trust in the divine mercy granted to sinners through the blood shedding of Christ. To believe in Christ is a duty, is wisdom, is eternal life.