We’ve traced Paul’s description of Jesus’ humiliation in Philippians 2, all the way to “even the death of the cross” (Php 2.8). It is a deep humiliation indeed.
But the Father does not leave the Son in that abyss. With just one word, we learn that all we have seen so far is just prelude—or more precisely, it is simply the ground for an earthshaking conclusion.
“Therefore,” Paul writes (Php 2.9). “Therefore.” You can feel the atmosphere of the room crackle electric; you can all but hear the power of Paul’s voice as he speaks to his amanuensis. “Therefore, God has highly exalted him.”
Some years ago, I was walking on the beach at the Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC, when I spied an old man clambering over the boulders of a jetty as he worked his way up the beach toward me. He had on swim trunks and no shirt. As he approached I realized that I recognized him. It was Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings. At the time Hollings was a very powerful political force, in his third term in the US Senate. Just two years later he would be a candidate for president—though he got trounced in New Hampshire and then endorsed Gary Hart, who was (unsuccessfully) battling Walter Mondale for the nomination.
But what I remember about that scene was how ordinary—in fact, weak and vulnerable—the man looked. If I’d been closer when I saw him on the jetty, I probably would have run over and offered to help him.
People are like that. The most powerful of us are ordinary and weak outside of our carefully controlled public manifestation.
The man on the cross is not like that.
To begin with, he is the Son, the beloved one. His exaltation began long before He ascended to heaven, even before he rose from the dead. It springs, of course, from His person, who He is, and He has always been worthy and exalted, from eternity past. But even during His earthly ministry, in the midst of His humiliation, we see the light of His glory shining through.
We see it even before his birth, from the very first prophecy in the Bible, when God promises that “the seed of the woman” will crush the serpent’s head. We see it at his birth, when the aged prophet Simeon calls him “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Lk 2.32). We see it at his baptism, when a voice from heaven calls out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3.17). We see it again on the holy mount, when “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Mt 17.2)—and the Voice came again (Mt 17.5).
And we see it hidden deep in his own words to Nicodemus, the great but benighted Jewish rabbi and Sanhedrist, when he says, in words dripping red, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn 3.14). Here is a remarkable statement. What Nicodemus doesn’t see is that Jesus is speaking of his own death, the very death that we have described repeatedly here as his greatest humiliation. Speaking of the cross, Jesus says that He will be “lifted up.” At the very depth, as he dies the death of common criminal, bearing the sins of all mankind and being cursed while hanging on a tree, He is “lifted up.” Even his debasement is an exaltation.
In a very different context, speaking of Israel’s unbelief and the subsequent opening of the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul writes, “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Ro 11.12). We can say here similarly, if the Son’s humiliation brings such glory and blessing, what will his exaltation bring?
More to come.