Question 49 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How did Christ humble himself in his death?” It gives the answer, “Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors, having also conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God's wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.” Last time on this question we looked at how Jesus endured the ultimate shame of death for us. Today we consider his other acts of humiliation.
When Jesus humbled himself unto death He humbled Himself more than we ever do or can do. As sinners by nature we deserve death. Jesus as the sinless second Adam did not. We are rightly and justly under the authority of and subject to the curse of death. Death had no hold over or claim upon Jesus, yet He willingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily (as respecting His nature and the justice of God) allowed death to take Him. His honor and majesty being so much higher than all means that in dying He stooped so much lower. Because Jesus did not have to be humiliated in this way for Himself means that He voluntarily and deliberately chose to undergo it for us.
Christ’s humiliation was not simply in dying but in dying in such a shameful and disgraceful way. First, Jesus was betrayed. Some of the most infamous acts in human history are betrayals, especially when the betrayal was at a crucial time or by a close friend. Thus, Benedict Arnold is a byword among all Americans for betraying His own country and army to the British during wartime. Likewise, Julius Caesar, though betrayed and stabbed by many, in his dying words speaks only to the conspirator who was his close friend: et tu Brute’ “and you too Brutus?” Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the most infamous traitor in history. He was one of The Twelve, those intimately privileged disciples of our Lord, and his betrayal was unto death. In a cruel act of mockery, Judas betrayed his lord with a kiss. Then, immediately, all of the rest of Jesus’ closest friends abandoned Him. If there is a close second in dishonorable acts to betraying, it would be abandoning. All eleven of His disciples fled and left him to be unjustly arrested, beaten, mocked, condemned, and killed though at any moment Jesus could have spoken one word and all the world would have been justly slain by innumerable angels (Matt. 26:53).
The Catechism next mentions Christ’s being scorned and rejected by the world. The world – which was rightly under God’s condemnation and curse – scorned and rejected the only one meriting God’s approval! It is one thing to be scorned when we do something scorn-worthy. Judas is rightly scorned. The disciples for forsaking Jesus could have been rightly scorned by Him. But Jesus was scorned and rejected when all He did proved that He should have been honored and accepted, even celebrated and worshiped! How humiliating also for Jesus to be condemned to die by God’s appointed ruler of His country, Pontius Pilate? Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent, admitted repeatedly that He did nothing wrong, yet still he handed Him over to be crucified: Jesus was wrongly convicted as a dangerous capital offender and enemy of the state.
Additionally, Jesus underwent the physical and psychological trauma of being tormented by Romans and Jews alike. The chief priests of God, Jesus’ own Father, had overseen His mock trial the night before, including His being unjustly beaten and condemned. He had to listen as false witnesses uttered lies maligning Him as a traitor to God (when they were the traitors), and he had to endure as these lies were accepted and declared to be true. Repeatedly they spit on Him and punched Him in the face. Amidst the Romans he was cruelly mocked as king of the Jews: a rebel and traitor to Rome. They too spat upon Him and struck Him in the face. They also ridiculed Him with sham bowing and a pathetic scepter. But that wasn’t disgraceful enough, they then took away His scepter and beat Him on the head with it, the head on which they had pressed a crown fashioned of painful, ugly thorns. They even stripped the clothes off His back and gambled for them in the shadow of His dying body. Jesus underwent all of these humiliations and more, unjustly, in order to save His people from the justice of God. Take some time today to meditate on the vicarious, redemptive humiliations Christ suffered to save you.