ABC Extra – Jesus Likes It When You’re Humiliated

March 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

No one likes to be humbled.  After all, being humbled is, well, humiliating.  Being humbled wounds your ego.  Being humbled shatters your pride.  Being humbled can even make you question your competence.  But although being humbled is not an enjoyable experience, Jesus says it is a good – and sometimes even a necessary – one.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we studied the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.  Jesus ends His parable with this thought:  “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14).  This one, seemingly simple, statement is worth pondering.

First, it is worth noting that Jesus’ statement concerning humility and those who are humbled and exalted does not prima facie show it self to be apparent in the lives of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisee, who haughtily “thanks God that he is not like other men” (verse 11) and the tax collector, who cries out, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner” (verse 13) do not depart from the temple any more visibly humbled or exalted than when they came in.  In fact, it is reasonable to suggest that they did not feel any more humbled or exalted than when they came in.  The Pharisee leaves still secure in his own righteousness.  And the tax collector leaves probably still struggling with guilt from his past misdeeds.  However, regardless of how things may appear to outsiders or even feel on the inside for the Pharisee and the tax collector, something radical happened spiritually:  the Pharisee has been humbled and the tax collector has been exalted.  Jesus says so.  Thus, it seems possible for a person to be humbled or exalted in God’s Kingdom and not even know it.  And so, even when we feel humiliated by the world, we trust that, through faith, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).  God exalts His people, even if hiddenly.

The second thing worth noting is that, in God’s Kingdom, exaltation comes in and through humiliation.  The Greek word for “exalt” is hypso.  This word is taken up by the apostle Paul in his famous hymn from Philippians 2:8-9: “Being found in appearance as a man, Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”  Here the word for “exalted” is hyperhypso, the prefix hyper- intensifying the thrust of the verb.  In other words, Jesus is not just exalted, He’s hyper-exalted!  But notice the route He travels to arrive at such exaltation:  He humbles Himself and becomes obedient unto death – even death on a cross.  Thus, exaltation for Jesus involves not just a lofty heavenly perch, but a humiliating death.  Jesus Himself speaks similarly when He prophesies, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  Again we find the word hypso, this time translated as the phrase “lifted up.”  In the Gospel of John, to be “lifted up” does not mean to be lifted up in exaltation on throne, but to be lifted up in humiliation on a cross.  Humiliation is exaltation for Jesus!

So what does all this mean?  It means that in the Kingdom of God, humiliation and exaltation are closer than we think.  Indeed, we find exaltation in humiliation.  This truth should lead us to humble ourselves in service to our God and to others.   Consider:  Who is it that needs your strong hand?  Or who is it that needs your gentle words?  Who is it that needs your time in companionship?  Or who is it that needs your prayers for healing?  These tasks may seem menial and humble, but these are exactly the kind of tasks to which we are called.  For in such humble service, we are exalted – not in the way the world views exaltation, but in the way God grants exaltation.  And that’s the kind of exaltation we want anyway.

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