Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tracing Humiliation and Exaltation

It's called the Kingda Ka, and it is simply the highest, most gut-wrenching roller coaster in the world. It was built in Jackson, NJ (not too very far from here) in 2005. Imagine going from 0 to 128 m.p.h. in 3.5 seconds, then getting rocketed 456 feet into the air (that is 45 stories) before plummeting 418 feet (41 stories) back to earth on what is the largest drop in roller coaster history. Can't imagine? Get a front-row seat by watching here.
This gut wrenching drop from height to depth can help us to envision what Jesus went through when he became a human being. The Apostle Paul (Phil. 2:6) states that Jesus exists "in the form of God," meaning that as the pre-incarnate Son of God he existed in a state of "equality with God."
Yet for the sake of his Father's glory he "was humiliated by being born as a man and born into a poor family..." He was "made subject to the law and suffering the miseries of this life." More shockingly he faced "the anger of God and the curse of death on the cross...being buried and remaining under the power of death." (Shorter Catechsim #27)
The "drop" out of heaven into the womb of a Nazare teenager is breath-taking, and beautifully captured in the 2006 filme The Nativity Story. Such stories convey the condition of Jesus in his birth in the backwaters of a minor Roman province to parents who were simply nobodies: the highest of Kings was born as the lowest of men. Why, even the Apostle Paul would never face crucifixion. He was born as a Roman citizen exampt from such torture. But not Jesus.
Jesus' state of humiliation meant that he took the "form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7). He was "found in human form" (v. 8) by the most undesireable elements of his day.
First, Jesus was found in Bethlehem on the night of his birth by shepherds (Luke 2:15-16). In first-century Palestine shepherds were the poorest of the poor, a despised class among men. They were the ones who first found the Son of God resting in a manger.
Later, Jesus was found by Satan in the wilderness. Three times Satan came at him, assaulting Jesus where he thought he'd be vulnerable: his growling stomach, his public identity as a prophet, and his desire to possess all the kingdoms of the world. Why must the Son of God endure such mind-tricks from the Blasphemer he spoke into being?
Finally, Jesus was found by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went there often, and the peace of that place was shattered as armor-clad soldiers apprehended the King of Kings. It was the kiss of a treasonous disciple that sealed his fate.
Paul powerfully understates Jesus' descent when he says, "he humbled himself." The Son of God was invaded and voilated in every possible way.
Yet there was an inscrutable purpose here. Even Jesus' murder fit into a divine plan. In enduring these things Jesus had "become obedient" to his Father's will. Because God was committed to his own glory above all else, he did the truly loving thing in sustaining his own Son through suffering....even suffering that ended in death.
And that's where the story changes. Jesus' obedience was the basis for the second part of the Kingda Ka ride -- back to the summit. "Christ was exalted by rising again from the dead...going up into heaven...sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and His coming to judge the world at the last day" (SC #28). In Paul's language the Father bestowed The Name (hashem) upon Jesus: namely he revealed to all creation that Jesus is LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah). The day is coming when a world of creatures will bow and the murmur of confession will ripple through the masses of humanity, "Jesus is Lord." And the Father will be glad.
It was a heart-stopping drop Jesus endured in his incarnation. Yet the divine Son of God won the victory where the first Adam failed. He was an obedient Son, and his Father was pleased.
Are you willing to follow this same outline: humiliation first, followed by glorification? Are you willing to humble yourself for the sake of Christ? to lose yourself in HIS purpose for history? To be found by those who would tempt you and betray you -- to the glory and praise of your Father?
The Apostle John finishes this thought: "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 Jo. 2:6).