Summary: 1. Jesus Christ humbled himself. 2. Jesus Christ surrendered himself. 3. Jesus Christ gave himself to save us.
The Apostle’s Creed, which we are studying, is a creed of contrasts. Listen to the stark opposites to which we profess faith: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” From that great pronouncement of Christ’s uniqueness, glory and deity, we immediately go to the next part of the creed that says, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” We go from mystery, grandeur and beauty to degradation, misery and death. It is a constant reminder that Christ left his home and position in Glory to experience life on earth. He left everything to be partners with us in the pilgrimage of life. God created the world, and then was born into it. He came to suffer and die in the world which he had made.
When we say that we believe that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, we mean that Jesus was a real person who existed in real time and history on planet earth. He who was fully God became fully man. But in order to become fully human, it meant that, first of all, Jesus Christ humbled himself. We will never understand the depth of Christ’s humility in coming to the earth. The Bible says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8). You can almost hear the writer of those words gasp with wonder at the very thought of the truth his words described. God emptied himself. Theologians call this the kenosis, coming from the Greek word meaning “to empty.” The question is: What was it that Jesus emptied himself of when he came to earth? Was it his divinity? No, for he was still God, though he wore the disguise of a human body. Was he emptied of his power? It might appear that way, but he still had the power to forgive sin. He had the power to heal disease and make withered limbs whole. He had the power to bring life back into bodies that were dead. He had power over nature so that he could stop a storm and calm a sea with a single word. He was not completely limited in knowledge because he knew the name of Zacchaeus before he was told (Luke 19). He saw Nathaniel before he ever met him, and described what Nathaniel was doing even though he was a great distance away (John 1:48). He knew the life history of the woman at the well whom he had never met her before (John 4:4-26).
What was it then that he did not have on earth that he did have before in eternity? His divine nature was intact, and he retained divine power and knowledge, but he was robbed of his glory, his dignity, and his divine prerogatives and splendor as God. “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.” But it went beyond humility, for the Bible says, “Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer....” (Isaiah 53:10). He wanted to do it for you, and because of that, the Bible writer says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). When Jesus’ task on earth was done he prayed: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). He knew he would return once again to the presence of the Father’s glory.
A few years ago I read a book entitled Beyond Survival, by Gerald Coffee, a Navy pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam. It is the fascinating story of his experience as a POW. One of the striking things about the book is when he talks about what it is like to be stripped of your identity. One moment he was a hot-shot pilot in the United States Naval Air Force. He had the respect of his peers and the admiration of his country. He wore his gold wings with pride, and stood tall in his navy pilot’s uniform. He was unique in the sense that he was one of the few who were privileged to fly the nation’s hottest multimillion dollar planes with all the latest technology. But he was sitting in his high-tech jet, with helmet and flight suit, one moment, and the next moment he was floating in the ocean, and being pursued by people in primitive boats who could not even set a digital clock. Out of the glory of the skies, and the praise he received for being there, he came down to earth and was being approached by people that, until now, had been invisible to him. They put him in a squalid cell that smelled of human waste. They took away his wings, his flight suit, his rings and all personal belongings. From his clean, sophisticated surroundings he was now a prisoner, enveloped by filth and stench. Where once he had been praised, now he was cursed. Where once he was appreciated, now he was hated. Where he once had a privileged position of prominence, now he was no one. He had no position, no rank, no identity, and no respect. He was tortured in unthinkable ways. He was humiliated. But he endured it all because he was able to think of those he loved, and the fact that he was there because of them. He was willing to experience the shame and torture, both emotionally and physically, if it would save his loved ones and keep them free.