"who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:6-11
“He humbled himself,” so Paul rightly describes Jesus’ death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Today we view the word humble as a virtue, and we often mean by this term someone who is self-effacing, not seeking the limelight but willing to do lowly tasks. But Jesus’ death was not “humble” in that sense; rather it was humiliating.
Crucifixion degrades and dehumanizes its victim. The body is stretched out on a cross, stripped of clothing and dignity, exposed, naked, shamed, disgraced. Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant as one from whom people hide their faces, as one rejected and despised (Isa. 53:3). The whipping and scourging prior to the crucifixion render the victim sub-human, and the weakened body affixed to the wood is a laughingstock, a fool to be mocked. Such a man, the crowd says, is not “one of us.”
Yet Paul makes clear in the Christ hymn (Phil. 2:6–11) that Christ is indeed “one of us.” For love’s sake, Jesus Christ embraced humanity and became a man. Hebrews tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). He chose humiliation—the unspeakable torture and degradation of the cross—to condemn the world’s value system that privileges some and humiliates others. God shows no partiality, he is unimpressed by ethnicity, social status, or wealth (Acts 10:34–35; Eph. 6:9). On the cross, Christ gathered to himself the soul-destroying shame that afflicts this evil age and defeated its power on the cross. Christ endured the nails driven into his hands and feet, that he might redeem a people to be his hands and feet in humble service to others.
Lynn H. Cohick, a professor of New Testament, serves as interim dean of humanities and theological studies at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.