Honor in the Cross. (From Chapter 10 of What On Earth is Glory by Paul Manwaring)
The Cross is the supreme revelation of honor. At the Cross, Jesus showed us how much He valued every man, woman, and child that ever has been and ever will be, and that includes the most heinous perpetrators of evil. He valued all of us above His own life. Why did Jesus value us so highly? And how could He recognize glory in us when we had fallen short of His glory? The answer to both questions is that Jesus recognized our eternal value and glory. He knew His Father’s plan to “bring many sons to glory,” and saw all of us, despite the Fall, as the sons and daughters His Father had created for that purpose. But of course, there is more to it. The word “recognize” is a little lacking, because it suggests that Christ saw something in us that we already possessed. And we do possess it in eternity, but only because He gave it to us by dying on our behalf. Christ honored us through His death because it was only by His death that we could be made honorable. In showing how He valued us, He gave us that value.
Moreover, Christ’s death did not merely restore the value that we lost in the Fall. The price God paid to redeem us was much greater than the price He paid to create us, and thus redeemed humanity is worth far more, and has a far greater glory than Adam and Eve ever had in their innocence. When Christ restored us to glory (John 17:22), Christ did not make us like Adam and Eve, but like Himself. In fact, He made us part of Himself. We are now members of a new divine-human race in Him, partaking in the divine nature in a way we never did as those merely made in the image of God.
The act by which Christ made us “new creations” forever defined how we are to relate to one another as people of such great value. Paul tells us that this supreme act of honor was the supreme act of humility:
…Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
It seems humility enough that God became a man. But that was only the starting point. Paul says He was already in appearance as a man, and then He humbled himself—to the point of death. In His death, Jesus took a place below the worst of sinners, below an entire race of sinners. He humbled himself to the lowest point and from that point He looked up, because in complete and perfect humility the only place that you can look is up. But it was precisely getting to the bottom of things that positioned Christ to govern them.
As I’ve mentioned, I worked in prisons for nineteen years. One Saturday, while working as the in-charge governor (warden) in a young offenders’ prison, I visited the segregation unit (“the hole” here in America). Prison is where the bad guys go, and segregation units are where the really bad guys go. On this occasion, a young man was brought down in arm locks to the unit by three big, burly officers. We didn’t use cuffs very often inside the jail, so I remember it distinctly. As they had been trained to do, the officers put him facedown in a stripped-out cell in the segregation unit. The normal procedure was to have men stationed at the prisoner’s arms, legs, and head. One by one, each man would let go of a body part and retreat from the cell so nobody, including the prisoner, got hurt.
On this occasion, I walked into the cell and, despite appearances, had an awareness of what was really going on with this young man. I knew he was more scared than dangerous. As the governor, what I said went, so I usually didn’t say things unless I felt really confident about them.
“Let him go,” I said.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Yes, let him go.”
I sat on the floor next to him as they let him go. When I got down on his level, I saw things from his perspective. Four six-foot prison officers towered above us. It was very scary. I am much less physically imposing, especially when I’m on the ground. But even though I was on the ground, I was still the governor. From that position, I began to talk with that young man and govern the situation.
This memory came to mind as I was meditating on the humility of Jesus. Jesus took came down to our level, and then, got lower still by serving us, first in His ministry, and then in His death, where He “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9). He found the utmost depth to which humanity had fallen in sin and death, and got below that. He saw things from our perspective—in fact, He saw them better, for He not only felt our brokenness; He carried its full weight. But even as He identified fully with the consequences of our sin, He never lost His right or ability to govern. He governed from below, not above. He got below us in order to lift us up.
It may seem paradoxical to say that Christ humbled Himself in order to be exalted, but this is the truth Christ declared to us: "Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Paul tells us that this is precisely the formula at work in the Cross: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:8-9). But Jesus’ humility and exaltation were entirely undertaken on our behalf. His made His journey to the lowest place solely in order to get the thing we needed from God and couldn’t get ourselves: grace. One of the immutable aspects of God’s character, like the fact that He will not share His glory with another, is this: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Because humanity had fallen through pride, we were disqualified from grace. But God found a way to give us the one thing that would restore us without violating His character, and it is the same way He found to give us His glory. As we saw in Chapter 3, God did for the Son of Man what He hadn’t been able to do for Moses. He could answer Jesus’ request for glory because Jesus was not “another.” Similarly, the grace He could not give to a humanity fallen in pride, He could give to His Son, who humbled Himself.
But in order to receive the full measure of grace needed by sinners, Christ had to identify with us completely. To identify with those dead in sin, He had to die. And because He identified with us fully, His death became our death. As Paul said, “…one died for all, therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14). At the Cross, we were no longer dead in our sin; we were dead in Christ. And because we died with Him, we rose with Him when His Father raised Him from the dead:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Christ went from the lowest place of humility to the highest place of honor, and He took us with Him by the power of grace. He elevated us to the position we were created to hold as the glorious sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.