The Humility of the Cross

Philippians 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

In the center of the crowd gathered on Golgotha’s hill, two burly Roman soldiers hold Jesus’ arms to the rough wooden beam. Another holds His legs. The beams are being reused and so they are already stained with dried blood.

Now those beams are being stained with new, fresh blood. Every time Jesus moves, more blood pours from His open wounds. His back is screaming with pain after it has been shredded by the brutal scourging that took place only a few hours earlier.

A Roman centurion approaches with a hammer and nails. The nails are about eight inches long, thick, with large flat heads, and specially made for this purpose. Like the crosses, they have been reused many times.

The hammer blows are hard and efficient. The nail rips straight through Jesus’ hand and embeds itself deep in the wood. Compounding the agony of the injury, the nail sever the median nerve that goes from the shoulder to the fingertips. This causes continuous and intense pain along the entire limb. After each nail is hammered into Jesus’ hands, a cloth is wrapped around His wrists, to keep Him from bleeding out.

After Jesus is fastened to the wooden beam, the soldiers lift the cross off the ground and slide it into place in the prepared hole in the ground. The moment the cross is vertical, Jesus’ arms take the full weight of His body, possibly dislocating both shoulder joints. His feet search for a perch – something, anything – that He can push against to relieve the agony coursing through His arms. The soldiers then fasten a block of wood under Jesus’ feet. Then they hammer another nail through both feet, pinning His legs to the cross.

Pain is coursing through Jesus’ body. His head is crowned with thorns. His back is torn apart by scourging. His hands and feet nailed in place. Every breath is torture.

Yet, Jesus remains silent, like a lamb led to slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).

Crucifixion was the cruelest form of punishment devised by humanity in the ancient world. Death by crucifixion was slow, for despite the indescribable pain due to the wounds, the inflammation, and the unnatural strains and tensions, the vital parts of the body — brain, heart and lungs — remained undamaged. Sometimes death was delayed for days!

The agonies of Jesus are increased by the wounds on His back and head. Added to the physical suffering is the agony of spirit, caused by the public shame to which He is exposed. Many of the same people who had cheered Jesus on His way into Jerusalem on Sunday are now jeering Him on the hill outside Jerusalem on Friday. His disciples have deserted Him. He endures the crowd and religious leaders telling Him to get down off the cross if He really is the Son of God.

The Roman governor has ordered a placard placed above Jesus’ head. It proclaims the name and hometown of the condemned, notifying all passersby of the crime for which He is being executed. It reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” It brings to mind how the soldiers mocked the King of the Jews, crowning His brow with thorns, draping a robe over His torn and bloody shoulders, placing a reed in His hand as a scepter, kneeling before Him, spitting on Him and, finally, snatching the reed from His hand and beating Him over the head with it.

The Romans enjoyed the victims of crucifixion being naked on the cross. It added to the humiliation. This removal of clothing served the purpose of making crucifixion as great a deterrent as possible by adding the shame of public nudity to the excruciating pain. We cover Jesus in the images of the crucifixion because we cannot bear to witness Him degraded in such a way. But He was most likely naked after the soldiers had cast lots for His clothing (John 19:24).

Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! It was bad enough that God became Man at Jesus’ incarnation. It was bad enough that Jesus endured pain and suffering. It was bad enough that He died. But it was all exponentially worse because He chose to die on a cross! God Himself had stated in His Mosaic Law: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Oh, the shame and curse for Jesus to hang on a Roman cross! Though innocent, He was counted as a criminal guilty of a capital offense. And the center position of His cross — between two other known criminals — proclaimed that He was the worst of them.

Even worse than the nails, scourging, crown, mocking, nakedness, and crucifixion was that Jesus fell under God’s curse. God’s Law demanded death for sin. This curse is displayed in the kind of death God chose for His Son. God’s Word teaches: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).

The big question is “Why.” Why would Jesus endure such humiliation? Why would He choose such a death? Why would He suffer such a curse?

For us. Everything Jesus did, He did for us.

  • Christ willingly bore the curse of our sin as our Substitute! He died the death we deserved.

  • He endured humiliation because of our proud attitudes.

  • He suffered the cursing because of our cursing and blaspheming.

  • He experienced pain because of the pain we cause others with our caustic tongues and disrespectful behavior.

  • He sustained injuries because of the injuries we inflict on others with our gossip and anger.

  • He faced oppression and persecution because we are so afraid of being oppressed and persecuted for our faith.

  • He tolerated indignity and humiliation because we refuse to suffer any kind of indignity or humiliation for Christ’s name.

  • He withstood the shouts and jeering of the crowds because we are too terrified to shout and cheer for Jesus in a crowd of unbelievers. 

Jesus did it all. He endured it all. He suffered it all. For you. For me. For humanity.

Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, obeyed his Father’s will and humbled Himself all the way to a cursed death on the cross! He did it to give us God’s peace of the forgiveness of sins.

The Romans had absolutely no pity toward their prisoners, and Jesus was certainly no exception. Again, that is what each of us deserves. We have all disobeyed God’s laws and brought harm on our neighbors. Each of us ought to be punished mercilessly for the things we have done and the good we have left undone. But Jesus takes our place. He is on the cross for us. He is humbled so that we might be glorified through faith in Him.

It is you and I who should be bound hand and foot; instead, Jesus’ hands and feet are nailed to the cross. We should be cast into the outer darkness. But according to the Father’s will, Jesus hangs from the cross, soon to be plunged into an eerie, unnatural darkness when the sun should be at its zenith. Our King takes our place, suffering and dying that we might be set free.

{C}·       The King dies for His subjects.

{C}·       The Shepherd lays down His life for sheep who love to wander.

{C}·       The Creator allows His creatures to crucify Him.

{C}·       The people got what they wanted – they saved a murderer … and they murdered the Savior.

When the Pharisees and crowd finally got their way and Jesus was hanging from the cross you might think they would have the decency to leave Him be. But no, they stand before Him scoffing and saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One” (See Luke 23:35)! But Jesus cannot save Himself. He is not on the cross for Himself. He is bleeding and dying on the cross to save those very people standing and scoffing at the foot of the cross. He is hanging there in humility for humanity.

From His incarnation to His crucifixion, we see the active obedience and deliberate humility of Jesus.

St. Paul tells us in our Epistle lesson: “[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Instead of demanding His rights and destroying us for our rebellion, Jesus emptied Himself. He rendered Himself void of all of His glory. At His incarnation He became a man for all eternity. He was born to poor parents, slept in a barn as an infant and had no place to lay His head as an adult. He humbled Himself in this way so that He could eventually hang on the cross, be brutalized and beaten. Just like His birth and life, Jesus would not have His own place to lay His head upon His death. … He was laid in a borrowed tomb.

All this for your sake.

He did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 28:20).

We like to focus on the glory of the Son of God. But first we must focus on the humility of the Son of God. Especially this Holy Week.  

Jesus humbled Himself and came as a servant so that we would not fear Him, but trust in Him. He did not enter Jerusalem on a gleaming white steed to rule over us, rather He came gentle and riding a donkey because He was being obedient to Another – to His heavenly Father.

We like to sing “Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty” (CW: 133). But Jesus is first riding to a criminal’s death. A death that will make a centurion, a governor, and all of Jerusalem shake – but a death that will take a criminal to paradise.

Today we begin the emotional spiritual rollercoaster of Holy Week. We begin the week with festive palms and trumpets, but Friday is hard with the darkness, nails and the somber, silent walk to the cross. How many of us are tempted to skip Thursday, Friday and Saturday services so that we can hear the trumpets, Hosannas and Hallelujahs again on Easter morning? What’s wrong with enjoying the parades and skipping all the sacrifice and death talk? Parades and empty tombs are way more enjoyable than bloody, wooden crosses!

As much as we may like to ignore the events of this upcoming week, the only way to Easter is through the cross. We know where the Palm Sunday parade is leading – the cross. And the only way to the tomb is through the cross.

The pain. The torture. The hell. The death of God. The cross. The humility. For me. For you. For all of humanity.

  • All so that you might be forgiven.

  • So your guilt will be washed away by His innocent blood.

  • So that the halls of hell might be slammed shut and the gates of paradise are opened wide.

  • So that the serpent lies crushed and defeated under the heel of the Woman’s Seed.

  • So that the demons howl in defeat.

  • So that the angels applaud in victory.

  • So that we can belt out “Lift High the Cross” (CW: 579).

  • So that we can revel in “The King of Glory Comes” (CW: 363).

  • So that we can join with our fellow saints in heaven waving palm branches, shouting hosannas, and worshiping the King of kings and Lord of lords for all eternity.

For the humility of the cross has turned into the triumph of the cross. Amen.